A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ultramarathon Training - Why Swimming and Cycling?

An interesting question arose yesterday at the Staten Island South Shore YMCA while running trails with someone yesterday.

"If you're running all these 100 mile races, why are you swimming and cycling at all?"


It's a good question. I told her that cross-training has a way of exercising all the muscles that running itself doesn't do, and makes the body bulletproof to ultra-endurance races like those 100 mile events.

And since I'm training many different groups of muscles, I actually can load more hours of training in per week without sustaining an injury.

You see, if all I did was run, run, run, I would be taxing the same muscles all the time. Those same muscles need to recover at various points, so I have to program some down time into my regimen so that I don't get injured.

But when I add swimming and cycling into the mix? Well, I can easily pull back my volume of running to recover those muscles, but can ramp up, say, my cycling at the same time. I'm utilizing different muscles, so I can keep my intensity up while my running muscles are recovering.

Anyway, that's my take on it.

What is amazing about ultrarunning is that it is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is "undiscovered country", meaning there is no established way of training for these races yet. People who tackle these races need to find out for themselves what works for them and what doesn't. You cannot just buy a book and read from a script on how to approach the sport. The result, as amazing as it is, is that every ultrarunner has a very different approach to tackling ultramarathons.

Such as what I saw at Ultra Night last week at JackRabbit Sports. The forum had 8 different ultrarunners explaining their training and nutrition, and each was as different as the other in their approach.


One logs "big miles" of 160 miles per week of running, one does only 60 miles per week and Crossfit on the side (Crossfit is a new way of training that involves a holistic, high intensity approach, using groups of muscles instead of isolating each one). Another doesn't even keep a logbook, she goes out to run when she feels able to. You get the picture. And nutrition is also different among the ultrarunners; several are vegan, one went Paleolithic, one just eats raw fruits and some raw vegetables, and some just eat anything that is available to them.

As for me, I tried logging "big miles" before my second attempt at the 100 mile distance, the one I completed over 28 hours at Vermont 3 years ago. I barely got through that race. I used the same "big miles" routine in Leadville and died on the slopes of Hope Pass at mile 47. The race was utterly out of my league.

Immediately after the Leadville failure came a revelation; I started to go back to my triathlon roots and used that approach for Vermont last year. Cut down the run mileage but add the swim and cycling to the mix. The results were amazing! I finished the race in 21 hours and 24 minutes last year. The triathlon training worked!

That is what is great about training in a relatively young sport; everyone gets to make their own rules. There is no established training approach to ultras, not yet anyway, and given the philosophy of the sport, I don't think anyone *can* come up with a unified approach in training for the sport. Every ultramarathon course is different, the people who enter into ultrarunning come from different backgrounds and are largely experienced in training in that background for them to change their routine into something more unified.

I'll be sticking to my triathlon training. It works for me, and I think it will get me through the Grand Slam in the best way possible. I believe that all that swimming and cycling on top of my running will pay off this summer. And I'm willing to bet a small fortune on it. As a matter of fact, I already did, with all the expenses that come with these 4 races!

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