Ultra Marathon – Running Intervals – Racing Success


A popular question at ultra-marathon seminars that I give centers around Intervals.  Or more specifically…how do you run a successful 50-mile, 24-hour or 100-mile race?

IMG_20180623_100635059

 (Notice little device that looks like a pager,
interval timer keeping me on track 2018 Leadville Run Camp)

37273117_2092989860712159_6061899854978744320_n

Running to Leadville :  A story about a life finally revealed and a terrible twist of fate that turned everything inside out.  Also the story of a small mining town and a 100-mile foot race that changes you.  Available on Amazon and signed copies here.

At my level of fitness/competition, I do not “run” the entire race.  I’ve completed four 100-mile races with a personal record (PR) of 21 hours 36 minutes, and twelve 24-hour races with a PR mileage of 96.75-miles using a run/hike interval approach.  An interval approach could be defined as a period of time broken down into a run segment where you run for a given amount of time and a hiking segment where you hike for a given amount of time.

8-minute run/2-minute hike

How does an interval approach work in ultra-marathons?

Going into a race I establish goals…#1 to finish, #2 a successful time goal and #3 a PR time goal.  I have what I consider two interval approaches to a successful ultra-marathon.  The Pace Per Mile method and the Terrain method.  By no means do I believe I’ve invented either of these methods or have I cornered the market…simply outlining how I’ve used them in my running and racing.

PACE PER MILE:

This method starts with my time related race goals.  From those goals, I use a pace calculator, available on-line, to figure out an overall pace per mile.  From this overall pace, I figure out a “run pace” and a “hike pace.”  It’s not super scientific, I simply take the overall pace and adjust my run pace to run slightly faster than the overall pace to cover the slower hiking periods.

Example:

24-hour 100-mile finish = 14:24 overall pace.

I can hike a solid 15:30 mile pace for most of the day and can hike faster for shorter distances.  I like to use this solid pace as my planning factor.

At this hiking pace, I figure I need my run pace to be between 11:30 and 12:30 per mile.  During the day, I’ll check the overall pace mode on my GPS watch and adjust my pace(s) to keep on target or slightly better.  I’ll run a little faster when needed or slow down if I get to far out in front of my goal or my finish is in jeopardy.  If I fall behind I’ll speed up some.  Now saying that I will also use the downhills as bonus time.  The downhill sections I run as my body allows, cautious to not “over speed” my legs burning them out for the long haul.  I take advantage of the down hills to run a little faster to make up time or to stay even with the time I lost on the climbs/time off pace all together (aid stops).

I also have pacing plans for the first half of the race and for the second half to account for body fatigue.  For races like the JFK50 where the course covers three varying conditions, I’ve had different pacing plans for each section.

TERRAIN:

This method centers around my time related race goals and what terrain the race course offers up.  i.e.  take what the course gives you.  For my first 100 the rule of the day was to hike anything that looked like a hill, smelled like a hill or felt like a hill.  I ran all the down hills and flats at a conservative 12 minutes per mile pace.  This was a pace from my 24-hour race experience I knew I could keep up.  This approach allows you to use the race course to your advantage, make up time where you can to cover time lost on the hills or pit stops.

Whatever method you chose, or a combination of methods you decide to run for your race the key is to stay flexible, listen to your body, take what the day gives you and keep moving.

34266485_10156682107581495_8529361418389028864_n

 (Yeti Success, Andrea helped me stay on pace and bring home a 50-mile PR)

I’ve run intervals of 25/5, 9/1, 8/2 and 4/2.  I’ve also fallen back to whatever interval I’ve needed to keep me in the race.  A 2/1 interval in the closing miles of Yeti 50-miler kept me mentally in the game and running faster than the previous 4/2 had.  I finished that race with a 50-mile PR.

To be honest, I also wing it a lot, as former heavy weight champion Mike Tyson said, “any plan is only good until you get punched in the face.”