Tag Archives: ultra-marathon training

Vary Your Training

It’s been a while since I posted something to my running/nutrition blog, but while I ran hills this morning I thought it would be worth sharing a bit of the last year or so of training failures and successes.

I’m totally in for a 50 miler this spring. After two weeks of hard training things are looking good – my knees are holding their own. This has placed me in a very good state of mind lately and it’s mainly due to the energy I have been deriving from harder training. This has not always been the case. I’ve spent the last year somewhat sidelined due to nagging injuries while trying to maintain a healthy aerobic base and enough supplementary strength work to rehabilitate/preserve/restore those injuries.

As a relentless self-experimenter, halfway through my training for my first 50k, I started to experiment with becoming a better “fat-burner” after reading about Zach Bitter and some lower carbohydrate using endurance athletes. I don’t know whether or not this improved my ability to use fat as energy. It must have because I was not using carbohydrates and something was getting me through the long runs. But, in retrospect, I feel like I was not running my best. I have a sneaking suspicion that my performance took a turn for the worse close to the end of my 50k training schedule. When you self-experiment, you have to learn from your mistakes and adapt or adjust.

There are studies now showing certain positive aspects to adapting your body to use more fat for energy (i.e. develop a strong aerobic base) especially for endurance athletes. However, if you train in one modality, I feel it will limit your potential. In my experience, after 8+ months of aerobic threshold training and lower-carbohydrate eating, I found my speed diminishing considerably. Despite strength workouts, my hill running became non-existent because my heart rate monitor would demand a slower pace. Doing this without fuel was perhaps a mistake but there is so much literature and “experts” out there encouraging the train low race high without addressing common pitfalls. What is worth noting, too, is that my enthusiasm for running started fading and energy for other endeavors also started wavering.

I recently re-reread Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight, and Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. It prompted me to start fueling again during most training runs and guess what? My performance is getting better by the second. Literally. I’m faster, my workouts are more intense, I’m more positive, I have more energy post-workout, and my endorphins are on the rise. I will still do some fasted workouts but I will be more strategic about it. So, the takeaway points, for me in this training cycle are what might seem like back to basics for most experienced runners but they are worth noting:

  1. Vary the modalities of your training: long, tempo, hill sprints, solely aerobic (heart rate), cross-training, strength, etc…You can try to cram two or three modalities into one week but do low-intensity between hard days (long, hills, tempo). Don’t be afraid to walk.
  2. For god’s sake, eat real food (lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, tubers, lean meats, nuts and seeds) or as mobility and CrossFit guru, Kelly Starrett, says, “Don’t eat like an asshole!” If you are putting in the miles, eat a lot of carbohydrates before (2+ hours) and fuel with carbohydrates and protein (brown bananas, mangos, spinach, and vegan protein smoothie work for me!) afterwards to recover quickly.
  3. You will become a better fat burner if you wait 2-3 hours after a meal to do your workout. It’s a-ok to fuel while you run if you are doing a hard workout. You may burn more glycogen but your metabolism will make up for it post-workout by utilizing more fat while you recover. My favorites intra-workout fuels right now are: Tailwind and Skratch.
  4. Sleep more.



Pre 50M#1 Part 2

50M Training Plan – American River 50M 2015

Below is the blueprint of the training program I plan to follow to build up to my first 50 miler. It’s a hybrid from many available sources out there. Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning, Bryon Powell’s Relentless Forward Motion, and online sources like www.trailrunevents.com, www.outsideonline.com, www.fellrnr.com, and others, all have had some influence on how I structured this training plan.

First and foremost, it is a flexible blueprint. Mondays and Tuesdays are interchangeable, there are road and trail specific training runs, weeks where I cycle down to recover, some back-to-back long runs (26+10, 28+10, etc.) and a staggered but relentless climb to a 50K a few weeks before the race. I plan to crosstrain (mainly bike) a bit as I wrestle with knee issues, do some full body circuit strength training on hard days with an emphasis on the weaker parts of my legs, and incorporate long hikes with a weighted vest to help train for that inevitable component of most ultras.

H=hard, E=easy, h=hills, s=speed, t=trail

Week Date H/E Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Total
1 11/17 H 0 6 4h 6 4 0 14 38
2 11/25 H 0 6 4h 6 4 0 16t 40
3 12/1 E 0 4 5h 4 4 0 8 25
4 12/8 H 0 8 5h 6 4 0 18t 41
5 12/15 H 0 10 6h 6 6 0 20 48
6 12/22 E 0 6 4s 4 4 0 10 28
7 12/29 H 0 10 4h 6 6 0 20t 46
8 1/5 H 0 10 6s 8 6 0 22 52
9 1/12 E 0 6 4h 4 6 0 14 34
10 1/19 H 10 0 4s + 2 8 6 0 22t 52
11 1/26 H 10 0 6h 8 6 0 24 54
12 2/2 E 0 8 4s + 2 6 6 0 16 42
13 2/9 H 10 0 4h 10 6 0 26t 56
14 2/16 H 10 0 6s + 2 10 6 0 28 62
15 2/23 E 0 8 4h 8 6 0 16t 42
16 3/2 H 0 12 6s + 2 12 6 0 32t 70
17 3/9 H 0 12 6 12 6 0 24t 60
18 3/16 E 0 8 4 8 6 0 16 42
19 3/23 E 0 0 4 0 6 0 10 20
20 3/30 Race! 0 3 0 3 0 50 rest! 56
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Light bike or OFF Easy


-alternate speed/hills

400 (4-10)

1600 (2-4)

-strength workout



Walk/Hike w/35lbs.vest

and/or bike


-strength circuit


I am now in week 15 of a 16 week training plan for my first 50K ultramarathon. After two marathons and reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, I was intrigued and inspired to discover what psychological and physiological events occur after 26.2. On the recommendation of another runner, I thought I would use a 50K as a stepping stone to the American River 50 Mile ultramarathon in April. The blueprint for the training plan was from Competitor Magazine. I followed it pretty closely but added minor adjustments for preventative insurance. Running W, Th (hills), F, Su (long), M, with active rest on T and Sa (walking, biking, yoga). I complemented the training with preventative strength and core routines twice a week. The training plan peaked around 65-70 miles before tapering.

During week 7, I read about Zack Bitter‘s use of the OFM protocol to set an endurance running record and this led me down one of my many nutritional rabbit holes. After a week of reading all I could find on OFM and keto-adaptation as it related to endurance training, I decided to pull the plug on sugar and grains. I lowered my intake of carbohydrate to achieve nutritional ketosis in the attempt to become “fat-adapted”. Using your own fat stores for the bulk of your endurance training has several benefits but the two that interested me the most were the clean-burning aspect of fat when compared to the biobyproduct of burning sugar and the thought that if I did indeed train my body to favor fat as fuel I could run longer with more consistent energy.

I did my first training run without gels, without an oatmeal breakfast, and without a post-workout whey and fruit frenzy, up near Lake Tahoe on one serving of UCAN and one Vespa CV-25. It was slow. About 2 minutes slower than my marathon pace. My goal was to stay in my target aerobic heart rate throughout the adaptation (following Phil Maffetone‘s target calculator). At altitude, with no fuel, and with nagging knee issues, I had a fairly good justification for plodding along the Truckee river for 18 miles at a rate that would encourage a slug to feel competitive.

Over the course of the following weeks, I made sure I was doing everything I possibly could nutritionally to not compromise the transition. I went as far as having a blood lipid panel done and all markers came back well above or below where they should have been.

And, coming off of bone edema induced from too much hill running a year ago, I wanted to make sure that on the physical side, I was treating all possible issues either preventatively or at least in a manner that insured the degradation and wear rate on my body would have a reversibility component in it during recovery.

I have now done most long runs (20-26 milers) on a cup of coffee with coconut oil and occasionally some butter from grass-fed cows, water, and electrolytes (sodium heavy). Manageable but no upper gear. However, after the third week, it was easier. I had one 16 miler where I tested the OFM protocol: at mile 4 I had a vespa junior and a VFuel gel and then another hit at mile 10. Gel felt like rocket fuel. Upper gear back.

So am I fat-adapted? Closer, for sure. My blood ketone levels on most days around noon measure at .7 – 1.3 mM. I feel great but know that if I can get them closer to 2 mM there will be additional benefits. As it stands, I’m pretty confident that I am burning a much higher percentage of fat for fuel during runs.

Here are a list of sources that have helped. I plan to review/comment on each over the course of the blog.

Ben Greenfield
Peter Attia’s Eating Academy blog
Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney

Transitional Aids:
-thyroid support
-sodium intake through broth and saltstick
greens perfect food
cultured organics
organic girl
-ginger, turmeric, dandelion root, green tea (traditional medicinals and tao of tea)
extreme endurance (or Hammer’s Anti-Fatigue Caps)
natural calm

Physical Therapy:
-foam rollers
rock tape
-patellar straps/supports
ice baths and cold showers

All the time:
-guided meditation (Bodhipaksa)

More on each of these to follow.