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The Duel Trail Race

100 Mile Training Pillars

olgak_articlesSo, you just signed up for a 100M trail race…and it’s a few weeks away! Panic attack! What do you do NOW???

David wrote a timely whole big article about what kind of 100 milers exist in our wonderful TALON region, so I don’t have to begin with that. That said, what I’d like to focus first and foremost are those few 100s that are coming up on us like a freight train, because you know, there is no time to panic but there is still time to adjust and make a dream happen.

The first race on the upcoming Fall calendar is Arkansas Traveller on October 4th, followed by Pumpkin Holler on October 18th and then Cactus Rose on October 25th. Where do you need to be at this point? Hopefully far into your peak training and ready to wind down. Your average weekly mileage varies as we are all individuals with style and life events, but I would surely like to see you in at least 50 miles per week category if you’re a beginner or in-general a “low mileage” kind of person prone to injuries.

For the low mileage runners (sub-50 mile  run week during your peak training), I would pray that you:

  1. cross-train for 2-3 additional hours a week with either cycling or other cardio equipment at the gym and weight training/plyometrics
  2. are an experienced runner who had completed a 100M race before

What could your last 3-4 weeks look like (approx. between 7-10 weeks out from race day)?

You ran your long runs in the vicinity of 30 miles followed by maybe a 10-miler the next day, and/or participated in a 50k/60k race (maybe even traveled somewhere for a 50M). That long run (or race) should have been close to the terrain your 100 miler will have. If it is Arkansas Traveller, you ran dirt roads and pounded your legs hard. If it’s Pumpkin Holler – about the same, and the hills were not steep but on the longer side. If it’s Cactus Rose – you hit lots of rocky terrain with steep climbs and ledges and some flat stretches in-between.

Now let’s look at the key components to 100 mile training.

Training Pillars

The Long Run: Steady, Carbo-depletion, Fast Finish, Back-to-back

Long runs are the most crucial part of your training.

Why?

  1. they train the body to become efficient at burning fat, its optimal fuel source
  2. you become more efficient in amassing muscle glycogen, the major form of stored carbohydrates in the body
  3. you increase the size and number of muscle capillaries and mitochondria, the blood vessels and cellular factories that facilitate aerobic energy
  4. you learn to keep going when fatigued

What could long runs look like?

It depends how good you are as a runner and how long you have been training.

The most obvious way to do a long run is to go easy and at consistent pace/effort, never to exceed 70% of your HRmax (if you’re training with Heart Rate monitor).

One step forward and you can do the same run, but only intake water and electrolytes. It’s called a “carbohydrate-depleting run” and will teach the body to turn to a fat-burning system for fuel.

Want more struggle?

Make a “fast-finish” long run where you split it (in your head, or plan ahead) into three parts and accelerate on each of the thirds to have the next faster than the previous. This way you don’t even need to go as long as when you just do your “elementary school” long run the “easy consistent” way!

Something I personally subscribe to  is “back-to-back” long runs. For a 100M race, I believe in a weekend flow beginning with 16/10 and growing them slowly over time into 35/20 combo. If you use a race as a longest run in your training, make it a real target race if it is at least eight weeks out of the 100 miler, or a “training race” if it’s closer.

How long is the long run if you’re using time instead of miles?

Assume you have a 50M race finish time on a similar terrain, go about 40% of that time for the longest run.

Hill Work: Explosive and Long

Your training plan must include some hill workout days. There are two types of hill workouts: short, explosive hill workouts and long hills.

Short, explosive hill sprints are NOT a primary fitness-building workout, but rather a great ancillary training component. The idea is to run for 10-15 seconds up a steep hill (7-10% grade) at maximum effort. After each repeat, take a full (2-3 minute) rest so that you’re fully recovered before starting again. They are designed to activate and improve the function of the neuromuscular system and increase maximal stroke volume in the heart.

Long hill workouts begin with at least a 90 second hill and can range in length from about .2 miles to .7 miles long, either on an actual hill or the treadmill. Go up and down as many times as you can fit into 1-1.5hrs of your day during a work week. These workouts are improving VO2max and increase your muscle strength. You go hard uphill and easy downhill during three of your workouts during a month, and reverse the idea (easy uphill and very hard downhill) for the fourth workout of that month. This way you grow your muscle fibers for the uphill battles, train your legs for the lactic acid build up, and prepare your cardiovascular system for some serious tasking. Plus you also beat up your quads and get them ready for downhills, as eccentric (elongated) contractions are what damages muscle fibers the most and catches up with you later in a 100 mile race.

You can combine your various hill workouts by running over a natural hilly course. Just attack the hill portion as if you were recovering the whole time so far. :-)

Tempo Effort

I also would like to see you do some kind of tempo runs and/or longer interval repeats. The benefits of these are multitude, as it teaches you to run on tired legs and does a great deal of good stuff to your heart and lungs on the run. The rule of thumb for tempo runs is to go no more than one quarter of your race distance, but this will not apply to a 100 miler. I would say your tempo runs should never exceed 10 miles (unless you’re an elite, then you don’t need to read this article) and the pace should be what you would have run your race of that distance plus (important part) 20 sec/mile. If you’re doing your tempo on the trails, your effort would correspond to about 75-82% (at maximum) of your HRmax.

Taper: 75-50-Race

Coming back to those first three 100M races we have in TALON region, with about three weeks to go it is time to think about taper. The first-time runners of the distance would want to take full advantage of a taper and begin three weeks out for sure. At three week out, run 75% of the peak weekly mileage and remove the miles from your long run(s), tempo and hills. But keep the intensity!!! And for now, keep the time of easy/recovery runs the same (you do have them, easy runs, on top of your weekly hill/tempo/long run, right?).

Two weeks out – drop weekly mileage to 50% of your peak week.

Race week – run 2-3 times during the week. One day has a “push” kind of run but short. The other two days just plodding a few miles.

Mind Prep: Terrain, Rules, Goals

What else is there to know about your 100M race?

Study the terrain from the website or in-person, read race reports, scout the area.

Know the rules for the race as they may differ from one to another (music allowing, pacer, aid stations – Cactus Rose, for example, is self-served unsupported race, time cut-offs at each point, etc).

Choose a goal. Better yet – choose a few!

Your first and primary goal has to be to cross the finish line healthy, in the allowed time, and hopefully with a smile on your face! Make your next goal somewhat harder, but realistically attainable. If you had run a 100M race before, compare terrains and set a time you think you can improve upon. If this is your first go – but you raced a 50 miler in similar conditions, double your time and add at least three more hours (on a good day). If you never set foot in a long timed organized event – pick your longest run (say, 35 miles of similar running in 9 hours), multiply time you had done it in by however much to make up a 100 (3x), then add 3-4 hours. And last, but most exciting “pie in the sky” goal – reach out! Imagine your day DOES go well, you don’t trip and fall, you fuel and hydrate properly, your pacer works magic, your legs never give out on you, and your sleep monster takes a vacation – go crazy! Sub-24 hours always seems to be a blast to wish for, or anything you want – but make sure it is still something you, potentially can do – you would hate to be so far off that you’d never want to return.

If you’re racing Arkansas Traveller 100 on October 4th, there are still three weeks left to train! Don’t get discouraged, take your training to a level that makes you more comfortable you can finish a 100 miler.

Of course, for 100 milers further away on the calendar, what I had written above is your gravy to implement and start planning the training schedule. You’re in the luck, don’t lose the opportunity to train right!

And remember, we do this for FUN!

- Olga King

About the author

Olga King Olga King (Varlamova) has picked up a second wind of running at the beginning of her fourth decade. With the success of being a self-proclaimed “freight train that never stops”, she has finished over 100 races at distances from the marathon and beyond. For more information on Olga, check out the About page where you can see some of her health and coaching related projects.

3 Responses to “100 Mile Training Pillars”

  1. on 28 Aug 2014 at 6:22 am Steven

    What a great (and timely) article. Thanks so much for this.

  2. on 28 Aug 2014 at 9:31 am Caleb

    Olga, based on your time calculation for finishing time in a 100. I wouldn’t make the cut off for a race like Leadville. So, how would you factor in course difficulty. Say I finish cactus rose 50 miler in 14 hours. Based on the formula you gave it would take me 31 hours. One hour past the cut-off. Granted Leadville is at altitude the overall curse is less technical. Thankfully I will just be pacing 50 miles of the race, but I also plan on doing a mountain 100 next summer sometime after Leadville.

    Loved this article though, it will definitely help in my training as I start to prepare for my first 100 mile race.

  3. on 31 Aug 2014 at 11:18 am Fawn

    I’m feeling much more confident after reading. Again. I’ve hit the long runs. I’ve slacked on my cross training, but like you said, I’ve still got time.

    I just need someone there to make me go when I want to stop.

    I am going to do my cross training when the students go to their athletic period. That gives me 45 minutes and only one class to teach after that. That’s the plan.

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