The long-awaited "how I train" entry

December 20, 2006


(1) I’m not a coach.

(2) I no longer have time to read the exercise physiology literature, as I once did, so my training program is not particularly “scientific.”

(3) I’ve been doing ultramarathons for less than three years, so I’m not an expert on them.

(4) What works for me won’t necessarily work for others. (As the ultra listserv people like to say, YMMV — your mileage may vary.)

Ultramarathon training principles I regard as self-evident

(1) Long runs, up-tempo (faster-than-race-pace) runs, and speedwork are all useful.

(2) Key training runs should mimic the terrain of the goal race. Train on pavement to race well on pavement, train on hills to race well on hills, etc. (You know, like, d’uhh….)

(3) Long runs should be used to determine your nutritional needs during races. Figure out what works for your body in terms of fluid, electrolyte, and calorie replacement.

Other conclusions I’ve reached through trial and error

(1) Long runs are best done at race pace. Before my first two 100Ks, I did my long runs at slower than race pace; in both of those races, I faded badly over the last 30K or so. Before my last 100K and last 50-miler, I did my long runs at race pace or faster; both of those races went well. Guess which approach I’ll be using next time?

(2) Single long runs are better than back-to-back not-as-long runs. Some people like to do a fairly long run on Saturday and another fairly long run on Sunday, the idea being that their bodies adapt to the high mileage without being damaged as much as they would by a single super-long run. This may or may not be true. However, when I’m preparing for a race, I gain confidence from simulating that race as closely as possible — i.e., by doing individual long runs that are 60-70% of the race distance, not by doing two shorter runs and hoping that they “add up” to being prepared for the full distance.

(3) Once every other week is a good frequency for long runs. Since I do them at race pace, I need several days to recover from them. Scheduling them a couple weeks apart gives me time to recover fully, then get in some high-quality fast running before the next one.

(4) Higher weekly mileage helps keep the weight down. It’s been said that a high volume of aerobic training increases muscle capillary density, mitochondrial density, blah blah blah. Yeah, fine, whatever. For me, the story may be as simple as the fact that my appetite does not scale with mileage, so increasing my mileage decreases my weight (by a couple pounds) and therefore makes me faster.

Gory details

(1) A summary of my training and racing data is available in a Google Doc (originally an Excel file) that I update periodically. Note the separate pages: intro, races, workouts, weekly, monthly, etc.

(2) The day-to-day details tend to look like this.

11/6: Ran home from work (6.5 miles), then 0.9 miles with Lucy (who is not much of a runner but still needs some exercise). A typical commuting day, meaning that I wore a light backpack and ran at about 7:00-7:15 per mile.

11/7: Ran to work (6.5 miles). Later, 0.9 miles with Lucy.

11/8: 7.4-mile warmup from home including form drills and strides. 4 x 1 mile around the Montlake Fill loop (5:17, 5:18, 5:18, 5:19) with ~500m jogs in between. 3.0-mile cooldown to work.

11/9: Ran home from work and then with Lucy (7.4 miles).

11/10: Ran to work, with six 30″ pickups in the middle. Later, 0.9 miles with Lucy.

11/11: Ran from home to Green Lake via R&T (~8.35 miles in 53:50), six laps of the 3.22-mile outer loop (20:02, 21:21 [bathroom stop], 19:39, 19:57, 19:51, 20:50 [bottle-filling stop]), and back home (~8.35 miles in 52:10; overall, ~36 miles in 3:47:40.) Then 0.9 miles with Lucy for a grand total of 36.9 miles.

11/12: Ran the 2.5 mile loop with Lucy, then the 3.4-mile 15th/14th loop. Mileage this week: 88.

11/13: Ran to work, etc. (7.5 miles). Later, 0.9 miles with Lucy.

11/14: Ran to work (6.5 miles). Later, 0.7 miles at work. Later, ran home (6.5 miles), doing the Roanoke-to-14th section as a tempo run (22:08).

11/15: Ran home from work via Health Sciences, then with Lucy (7.6 miles).

11/16: Ran from home to the arboretum (6.3 miles including form drills and strides). 2 x arb mile (5:28, 5:35) with 2′ jog in between. Wanted to do five repeats but was completely hopeless; maybe I need a few easy days. 2.8-mile cooldown to work.

11/17: Ran the 2.5-mile loop with Lucy.

11/18: Ran a Lake Union loop from Recycled Cycles with E-berg (6.8 miles).

11/19: 5.9-mile warmup from home. 3 x arb mile (5:17, 5:23, 5:18) with 2′ jogs in between. 2.5-mile cooldown to work. Later, 0.9 miles with Lucy. Mileage this week: 63.

11/20: Ran home from work (6.5 miles).

11/21: Ran to work (6.5 miles). Later, ran from work to Chris’ house (6.3 miles), including one hard lap of the 2.8-mile Green Lake inner loop (15:00) in the pouring rain.

11/22: Ran to to work (6.5 miles).

11/23: 26.0 miles at Green Lake — 8 laps of the 3.22-mile outer loop plus a tiny bit more. Did the eight laps in 2:41:10; splits were 19:47, 19:40, 20:43, 19:55, 21:25, 19:55, 20:28, 19:18. Slow laps included bathroom stops. Ran a couple miles with Matt Messner toward the end.

11/24: Ran home from work, then with Lucy (7.4 miles).

11/25: Ran to work (6.5 miles). Later, 0.9 miles with Lucy.

11/26: Ran home from work via a “scenic route” (11.0 miles) in the pouring rain, including 3 x ~800m in the I-90 tunnel with ~400m jogs in between. Then 0.9 miles with Lucy. Mileage this week: 78.

As for cross-training, I don’t currently do any, aside from about 35 miles per week of not-very-fast cycling — mostly commuting to and from work.


  1. Hey, glad I ran across your blog from your email. I just barely started running this year, after swearing my entire life I would never run… Now I find myself considering doing a marathon even possibly. 😉 One thing you should try to replace the excell spreadsheet is Google Spreadsheet, its pretty good and nice to be on line. Check out mine here :http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=pdVoM7lxg6CgWZACTq4XhVw(Google account required to view)

  2. Thanks for sharing … it's helpful to know how other runners train (especially elite ones) and I appreciate your openness!Balto

  3. Thank you.

  4. Greg,I think you should feel free to give yourself credit for a full mile when you run with Lucy. It could be the beginning of a more zen aproach to running. I thought of Victor Frankl who says (and I paraphrse), "the more one aims at sucess, the less successful one will be." Based on what you have here, the strength base you have built must incredible. Best of luck, and don't forget to rest.Alec

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