Recently I’ve had many people interested in my stories of ultramarathons and how I prepared for them. One of the main questions people have asked me is, ”how should I train for one?” Many people have had more running experience than me, or have been running marathons for years, but still can’t picture themselves completing an ultra. I don’t know why people think the impossible sometimes. A lot of people always doubt themselves before they even try. I would say to any runner that they can complete an ultra but my only good advice for them would be: you have got to “train for pain.” The reason why I say this is because if you have never pushed yourself to the limits, then you didn’t push yourself hard enough. This also goes for many other aspects of life, not just running.
Starting to run a little late in life, I had to give myself a crash course in running. I first signed up for a 50 kilometer run in Big Bear, California. At the time, I had never run more than 10 miles. My training buddies and I came up with an idea to run about the same distance at least once before the race. This way we would know mentally that we could make the distance, and we would just have to worry about the time and pace. One night my brother Justin and I ran 14 miles around Anaheim, Fullerton and some parts of Brea. We started to feel pain somewhere around 10-12 miles. The pain was in our legs and knees; our bodies weren’t accustomed to this yet. Our legs started to lock up. We got home and decided to do a victory lap in our car to check the exact distance of what we ran. I had a hard time driving so we decided to switch seats somewhere by Cal State Fullerton. As we pulled over, we both fell out of the car onto the ground, and had a hard time moving around the car and getting back in. We were laughing in pain the entire time because we knew this was crazy. We knew that this was happening to soon, and that we only covered half the distance of the actual race.
It took almost a week to recover from that run.
Race day came. We completed the race, locked legs and all. At the finish line, all the veteran runners kept laughing at us saying, “you know what’s next kid, 50 miles!” The first thing in our heads was these guys and gals are nuts. But they were right. We signed up for a 50 miler anyways. This time we doubled our training and went to the breaking point again. It saved our ass, because otherwise we would not have finished. Same thing after that race, ”you know what’s next kid, 100 miles!” “Are you freaking kidding me?”
They were right again. We signed up for a 100 miler. We trained until our legs brought back the pain. We finished our first 100 miler.
We began to notice that after every race, our bodies were getting used to it, and our recovery times were improving each time. What used to take a week to recover only takes a day or two now.
I want to clarify that when I talk about pain, I’m not talking about blisters and chafing. That can be prevented or reduced with the right gear (although, that does happen and you have to push through that too).
No, the pain I’m talking about is the muscle soreness or lactic acid build-up which occurs from extreme exercising or over-working the muscles longer than normal.
What I’m trying to say here is if you are going to try a long distance race or an ultramarathon I don’t think you should worry about changing your diet plan, speed, or anything like that. I believe that all you need to do is know what to expect the day of the race. If you run a fast 5-8 mile run everyday but didn’t run until it hurts, you’re gonna be in for a surprise on race day and, more than likely, you’re gonna drop out. However, if a couple of times before race day you push yourself until you feel the pain, and even then keep on pushing, come race day when the pain hits you, it won’t be a surprise, you’ll know what to do, and you’ll keep on moving. (See Also this article on overcoming Mental Hurdles)
I think John learned his lesson about this when he tried the BTR 100 mile race a few months back. He believed that he could powerwalk and jog the entire event. Although he did have a great pace, he never listened to me and never trained for pain. It caught him by surprise that day. If he would’ve felt the pain a few times before that race I know for a fact he would’ve finished.
One thing they say about ultramarathons is, “when you’re in pain wondering why the hell you signed up for this, that’s when the race actually begins. The rest is up to you.”
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