How to Train Running

100-miler Training Plans: What to Consider

There is a huge variety of 100-miler training plans out there, with a seemingly infinite variety of characteristics. But which one is right for me? Excellent question.
  • There is a huge variety of 100-miler training plans out there, with a seemingly infinite variety of characteristics
  • The three big areas in which plans seem to vary: system basics, how much to run, and integration of specificity
  • Before you can figure out which plan is best for you, it’s a good idea to think about your personal preferences, any constraints you may have, and the specifics about your target race

They say that if you’re planning to run one 100-miler, you should really plan on running a handful of them.  That’s because you’ll learn so much on your first race that you’ll want a few more events lined up to get a chance to try out improvements.

For me, Vermont was an eye-opening first experience.  Rocky Raccoon was a fully satisfying second. And now that Rocky is in the books, it’s time for me to start thinking about my next hondo and what I want to accomplish.  And then, of course, to design a training plan to get there.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-18-23-pmHere’s what I’ve seen with 100-mile plans: there are a lot of them.  It can be really confusing to know which one is right for you.  There are the UltraLadies Running Club plans, with their tough back-to-back weekend runs.  There are Powell’s “Relentless Forward Progress” schedules, with both the high (teacher’s pet) and low (slacker) mileage options.  And then there are endless custom or semi-custom plans available from serious-looking ultra coaches, all eager to get you prepped for your target distance.  They’re all the same in that they all involve the act of running and they all require you to commit to a certain amount of time to prepare. More often, they differ in these ways:

System Basics

  • Total Weeks of Training – ranging from 8-weeks to a year, depending on your base and your lead time
  • Phases of Training – a plan with just a ramp up of mileage and then a taper?  Or blocks of time with specific objectives (e.g., build mileage, get faster)?
  • Time vs. Distance – some want you upright for a set number of hours – like a POW camp, some just target miles
  • Heart Rate Training – some plans will peg your pacing to a specific target heart rate


How Much to Run

  • Total Mileage per Week – there are some that peak at 50, some go well north of 100
  • Mileage increases per Week – usually around 10% per week, some go faster
  • Longest Run – can be from 30 to 50
  • Back-to-Back Weekend Runs – some plans try to get you used to long stretches of being on your feet by having you do a long run on both Sat and Sun
  • Running Days per Week –  As few as 3-4, as many as 7


Integration of Specificity

  • Trail vs. Road – some snooty plans specify only trail miles instead of road miles
  • Speed Work – if a plan incorporates speed work, it’s usually one day a week of fast stuff – sprint repeats or intervals
  • Hill Training – there are plans that specify days of running up and down hills, usually repeats
  • Walk Training – some plans have a day set aside specifically to build up your ability to walk faster during the race – since you might as well get used to doing it
  • Night Runs – since you’ll likely spend half of your race in the dark, some plans have you acclimating your body to staying up late and using a headlamp


Okay, great, you’re thinking.  But which one is right for me?  Excellent question.  Let me answer that question with some questions.

You’ve obviously trained for other races – marathons, maybe a few 50-milers.  What type of training did you like?  Do you like to run three days a week or do you run every day?  Are you trying to get longer or faster?  (Or taller? Or better-looking?)

200px-hal_koerners_field_guide_to_ultrarunningAnd do you have anything going on in your life that might prevent you from training on certain days or times – say, a new job?  Or a new baby?  Or a new season of GOT?  Do you have the time flexibility to do a long run on both a Saturday and a Sunday?  Or will your spouse pack up all of your stuff in your AMC Pacer if you’re gone for eight hours?

And then finally, what’s your target race like?  Will it be flat or hilly?  Is it on pavement or technical trails?  Is it going to be hot or cold?  Or both?  Maybe there’s a river crossing?!

Just like you, I’m going to spend a little time thinking about all of those factors, along with some race options for my next 100 and my personal objectives.  I’ll be back shortly with my next race identified as well as my selection of a training plan that is the best option for me.  Stay tuned!

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