Race Strategy


Experience From - Ed Furtaw,

Ed Furtaw

Samuel Lucido wrote:

"As a new ultra runner, I'm curious to hear how those with and without lots of ultra experience train and race. I agree that it's not necessarily a good idea to give advice on training or racing. But learning from other's experiences rather than reinventing the wheel is an approach that I prefer. I appreciated the Sunmart 50 Miler Report from Dennis "the menace" Halpin, just to hear other experiences.

My one ultra, Ed Fitz 100K went quite well. However, I'm concerned that it may not be representative of trail ultras that I may want to do. Obviously the on trail/on road difference would be dramatic. But, for example, the Fitz had great food and water stations every 5K. I assume this is not a common luxury. What is more typical of trail ultras for food/water stations? Should I plan on carrying all my own food? As far as pacing goes, my only goal was to finish. So I randomly chose to run(slow) for 30 minutes and walk for 3 minutes, and maintain that strategy for the 100K. It worked great, as I finished in 10:28, but was still rather fried. What are other race strategies people use? I've heard that some walk all hills, but that doesn't seem feasible in mountain races. For the next year or so I still plan on maintaining the goal of FINISHING ultras rather than COMPETING.

My training for Fitz was kind of made up on my own too. Since I only decided to do Fitz about 2 months before hand, I had kind of a short training period. Pretty much what I did was took my longest recent training run and added 5 miles per week which got me up to a 45 mile run 3 weeks prior to race day. In between long runs I just did a couple of short runs with a little speed. From my previous marathon training I know the importance of strength, hill, and speed training. Again, what do others use for training strategies."

Samuel asked about ultra training and race strategies. Here are some of mine.

I have never had enough discipline to methodically run/walk on a pre-decided schedule during an ultra. I tend to run when I feel like running and walk when I feel like walking. This is NOT the same as the controversial "run when you can, walk when you can't" approach.

My favored approach to pacing during an ultra is to try to maintain a pre-decided pulse rate. The rate is chosen in advance on the basis of experience and race distance. For example, I have found that I can maintain a pulse of about 120-130 beats per minute for a long time - at least 10 hours. I can maintain 150 bpm for 3-4 hours or more. (Note - I'm 48 years old, so 150 bpm is about 87% of my estimated max heart rate.)

So before a race, I decide what pulse rate to try to maintain, and then in the race, I try to maintain it most of the time. This automatically slows me down (in miles per hour) when going uphill, running at high altitude, etc. I use aid stations as rest breaks, and usually spend several minutes at an aid station, refilling bottles (including getting some ICE in my bottles whenever possible), getting food, changing socks, socializing, etc. Then I try to resume running at my pre-selected pulse pace.

I have worn a heart rate monitor a few times, but I don't own one, and have found I don't need one to maintain my pulse within about 5 bpm of the desired number. When I want to know my pulse rate, I walk and check my pulse manually using my stopwatch.

This approach worked successfully at the AT100 this year. My pre-decided pace was 120-130 bpm. Throughout the race, as I checked it, it was usually right near 120 and I was running/walking easily and doing lots of en-route chatting etc. Late at night, about 20 hours into the run, I spent about an hour walking with an old friend, but at a slower pace than I had been going. I eventually had to pull away because the walking pace felt too slow, and my pulse was down to about 100.

My training, as many of you know by now, is low-mileage due to heel spurs. (By The Way, the Hapads are working great - over nine weeks now without rigid orthotics, and NO heel pain!) I rarely train over 30 miles per week, and rarely run on consecutive days. I cannot recall having done a training run over about 18 miles for probably the last 10 years, other than ultras themselves. Like Matt and others, I regard most of my ultras as training for other ultras. Even AT100, I considered as training for next year's Barkley.

I try different things (food, drinks, salt, nylons, etc.) in my training runs, and usually do some things in ultras that I don't do in solo training runs; eating soup is an example - I've done it in ultras but not in solo training runs. Thus I am not afraid to violate the old adage - "don't do in a race what you don't practice in training".

I do as much of my training as possible on trails, since that is where I run ultras, and that's what I like the best. One of my training techniques is visualization. I try to "memorize" the course before an ultra, preferably by running the course in training, but if that's not possible, I memorize it as much as I can from maps. I did this at AT100, by driving the course in advance and memorizing it from the driving and from maps. By the time of the race, I probably could have run it without getting lost even if the course had not been marked.

Other training techniques I use are peak-and-taper, and hard-easy. Starting about 3-4 months before an ultra, I begin to ratchet up my weekly mileage, with every other week harder than two weeks prior, and the intervening weeks a little easier than the preceding week. My training peak is usually three weeks before the ultra, then I taper until the race. I don't run at all for 4-6 days before an ultra.

I try to run about half my weekly mileage in one long weekend run. Of course, for me, that's only 10-18 miles. I'm amazed when I hear of people who do 30-50 mile solo training runs.

DISCLAIMER: The above is NOT ADVICE. I am not recommending that anyone try it. I'm just reporting what I do, because Samuel asked.