Experience From - Marv Skagerberg, Matt Mahoney, Rich Schick, Karl King, Jay Hodde

Marv Skagerberg

Here's a great workout I was able to do a lot of years ago all winter into spring. Then I ran prs for 10k, marathon, 50M & 100k in the same season. The 100k pr and marathon pr were one week apart.

5 x 1 mile at 85-90% even effort, with a 220 yd walking recovery between each. For me the miles were between 5:50 & 6:10. THEN, 13 miles at very easy pace which is amazingly easy & goes quickly after the intervals. So it was a speed workout and mid-week long run combined. I loved it.

Matt Mahoney

Chuck Hammonds wrote:

"Is speed work considered a normal part of training for Ultras?"
It depends. One ultrarunner I know does no speed work and no stretching. Last fall he ran 1040 miles from Florida to Ohio in 28 days. His 5K time is about 33 minutes. He mentioned that he would like to do Leadville, but doesn't think he can make the cutoffs. I'm sure he's right. He has 2 DNF's at Badwater.

Another ultrarunner I know (neither is on the lists) does speed work and runs 5K in about 17 minutes. He has run 100 miles in 2 24-hour races.

I don't run speed work on a track or with a watch. The proper term is "fartlek". I usually run it once a week on a trail or in a fun run where I make a game of catching faster runners and dropping back to slower runners. A fartlek session may start with a variable pace, 6:00/mi for 1/4 to 1/2 mile (0:20 faster than 5K pace), then 8:00/mi recovery for 1/4 to 1/2 mile. (The pace is estimated, of course). As the workout progresses, the intervals become shorter and faster and the recovery periods become slower and longer, often walking. The last interval is an all-out anaerobic sprint for as long as I can hold it. The point is to make the workout vigorous but fun, not grueling.

Rich Schick

I found it interesting the apparent overlap in the referenced posts. I have tried intervals on and off over the years and always ended up injured. I am not sure if this was due to my practice of making these additional mileage instead of substituting or even decreasing total miles when doing intervals, or as a result of my total destain for stretching until very recently. Perhaps it was all of the above. In contrast increasing mileage up to a max of about 130 a week never resulted in anything more serious than some stiffness and occasionally bonking on a long run.

I have talked to others on the topic and the consensus has always been "speed kills". I am tempted to try some speed work now, I feel that my IQ is finally starting to dominate my testosterone levels enough to go about it in a more intelligent manner - I even do stretches daily now. I would like to hear some more input on this one.

Karl King

1992 was probably my best year for running ultras. A number of weeks were around 40 miles/week, and included a lunch time run with a very speedy woman who pushed me all the time. Unfortunately, by the end of the year I had problems with adductor tendinitis, probably from insufficient stretching and inappropriate shoes.

The tendinitis forced me to cut my miles back to the 20-25/week range, and eliminate most of the quality work. Still, I was able to do 50 miles/100K/100 mile runs, just more slowly than I was capable of.

Now that the tendinitis is nearly gone, my miles have increased to the 35/week range. That includes some walking on a treadmill set at 10-15% grade a couple times/week.

The contrast between very low mileage and moderate mileage is noteworthy. I can easily feel how the extra miles have strengthened my legs. By the way, the extra miles are not in more runs/week, but longer runs on weekdays - 10's instead of 5's.

The subject of intervals is a complex one. You can find a different program for almost every runner who runs them. Perhaps the message is that if you are only used to long slow distance then any program of speed work will have some beneficial effect.

Remember that most interval programs you can find in books and magazines are intended for "short" distance runners. Most of these programs assume that the short distance runner needs to produce large amounts of energy from carbohydrate, and process the waste products formed from incomplete oxidation of carbo. That is what a runner needs to do in 5K race, for example.

That simply can't be right for an ultra runner. We need to conserve carbos as much as possible and produce large amounts of energy from the oxidation of fat. The biochemical pathways for burning fat and carbo at a high rate are not the same. Would you train the hell out of only your arms to run a 100 miler? Why run carbo burning intervals when you need to train your fat burning apparatus?

Very fast running shuts down the fat burning process. It seems to me that an ultra runner should train for speed by imbedding faster sections of running in medium to long runs. Such sections should be run slightly slower than lactate threshold. The concept is to train the body to produce more energy from fat, not carbo.

Traditional intervals or tempo runs may be better at the start of a buildup phase for two reasons. 1) they will help train the nerves and muscles for faster running, and 2) the increased speed will help subsequent training to be done at a faster pace.

Slow running all the time makes for a runner who is slow all the time. If you are concerned about your speed, you will do well to incorporate some form of faster as a regular part of your training. If you only do it when you think you need it, you will probably overdo it and get injured.

Jay Hodde

Having read other posts on intervals, I thought I'd contribute my preferred "interval" training workout for the winter months.

Since I hate to run in very cold weather, I do a lot of my winter mileage on a treadmill. Here is my favorite treadmill workout.

Warmup: 3 miles @ 7:30 pace "Pickups": Here, I do 3-4 miles by setting the treadmill to an 8.5 MPH rate. Since I have access to a treadmill with a long belt, I play with my position on the belt (IE, close to the controls, far to the end, etc). I am able to take about 6 really quick steps (faster than treadmill pace) before I run into the display, then I take 3-4 easy steps (so now I'm at the end of the belt) to relax. Then I repeat. I get some really weird stares while I'm doing this, but it adds variety to a very mental exercise. Cool down: 2-3 miles. Total miles: 8-10, in about 70 minutes.

PS. As Karl also noted, "my" leg strength has improved dramatically by increasing mileage. An alternative that has worked for me in the past? Cycling would be my first choice, Stairmaster, my second.