The more you run, the better runner you’ll become.
If I had to declare one truth to running, that would probably be it. (As I’ve discussed before, everyone does have a limit where running more is no longer productive, but most of us never come close to that limit).
So to properly train for a long distance ultramarathon, high mileage weeks become a focus. But committing to that much time on the trail is not always the best option …
A few weeks ago I registered for the UROC 100K in May, and with a click of a button, UROC became my focus race for the winter and spring.
Only this winter and spring will to look a lot different than years’ past.
Less than a month ago my wife and I had our first child. She’s beautiful, playful, and growing every day, but for such a small person she sure takes up a lot of time. And for the first time in awhile I’m having to prioritize how I spend each hour of the day.
Like most of you, I work full time and enjoy hobbies outside of running. I’m in a band, play disk golf, and freak’n love hanging out with my wife.
But because training has always been a top priority, I’m willing to sacrifice here or there to find time to train.
A newborn, however, changes things. And thus, I’m changing the way I train.
Why ‘No Time’ is No Excuse
This year I could’ve gotten away with declaring I didn’t have enough time for much training, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t blink an eye, but here’s the thing:
Everyone has time to train for an ultramarathon.
The “not enough time” excuse holds no weight in my book. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find the time.
When I hear someone say that don’t have enough time, what they’re really saying is that they aren’t prepared to make the time. Maybe they are super busy — work, school, family — but if training is really a priority, they’ll take time from something else in order to run.
Lack of time is nothing more than another excuse.
What you can blame, however, is the fact that you’re not willing to sacrifice something else in order to run. Maybe that’s sleep, studies, music, or work. Or maybe, like in my case, it’s time with your family.
If that’s the case for you, own it. So what do you do when time is limited by other obligations, but training is still a priority?
My plan is to evaluate and adjust my training to become more efficient.
The Balance of Time and Efficiency: Applying the 80/20 Rule to Running
You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule). It’s widely cited and over applied, but don’t get hung up on the actual numbers and the spirit can be extremely helpful.
Basically the 80/20 rule says that for most events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. According to the theory, you could say:
- 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of their clients.
- 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals.
- 80% of your work can be one through 20% of the tasks.
And 80% of your training improvements come from 20% of your effort.
In other words, to save time and energy, focus on the 20% of workouts that give you 80% of the results.
Now let me be very clear, I’m not suggesting that if you cut your mileage back to just 20% you’ll see great results. Far from it.
I’m suggesting — and plan to try out while training for UROC — that if I cut the fat and focus on the roughly 20% of runs and workouts that give me the most bang for my buck, I’ll still have a decent training cycle.
How I’m Training for an Ultramarathon on Limited Time
The question then becomes how to decide what to cut and what’s worth keeping.
This is all one big experiment — which I hope to learn from and improve upon — but after a bit of planning, I decided to start by looking at the following things:
- The goal race. Because I’m training for UROC (and not a 10K, for example), endurance is a main priority. The race also consists of 8,600 feet of elevation gain with a few significant climbs, so in addition to endurance, I want to focus on vertical gain.
- My race goals. I feel no pressure when it comes to performance, but I do want to get through this race feeling strong and happy, which means putting in the work, staying positive, and preparing mentally.
- My life objectives. The whole reason to cut training back is to spend more time with my family. There are ways to incorporate family into how I train, so I’ll get more bang for my time if I prioritize a joint run or hike than I would a more focused run on my own.
With that in mind, I’m adjusting my training in the following ways:
1. Fewer Miles
The most obvious thing to cut are the less productive miles — the runs that aren’t specifically focused on speed, recovery, or endurance.
Instead of training on 50-60 miles per week, I plan to keep it around 35-45 aside from a few key long run weeks (more on that later), and some of those miles will be behind a stroller.
Benefit: Save time through running fewer miles.
2. Targeted Workouts
To get away with fewer miles, I’ll make the miles I do run more productive by assigning a clear focus to each run with targeted workouts for speed, hills, endurance, or recovery.
Less going out for a casual run, more running with intention.
Benefit: Uses increased productivity to make up for lack of time running.
3. More Hiking
The stronger I can power-hike up a mountain, the stronger I’ll be on the major climbs at UROC. More than that, hiking builds leg strength and power, and it’s something I can do with Katie by my side and my daughter Eliza on my back.
I plan to replace some runs with longer hiking sessions, carrying everything I need to get myself and an infant through the mountains.
Benefit: Increased leg strength, improved hiking skills, time with family.
4. Better All-Around Fitness Through Micro-Workouts
One habit I’ve never kept is using down time for micro-strength workouts. Think 10 minutes of core work while watching TV, or a 5 minute squat session before I jump in the shower. Throughout the day these short sessions add up, and contribute to my overall fitness and strength.
Benefit: Using time otherwise unavailable for a run to build strength.
5. Key Long Runs
When training for goal races in the past, 3-4 hour long runs were a given just about every weekend. I want to avoid that this year.
Instead I’ve scheduled weekly long runs in the two hour range, with several key, much longer runs on select weekends, including races, adventures, and strategically placed outings of 4-10 hours.
I wouldn’t recommend this lack of progression to new runners or anyone tackling a distance for the first time, but I believe I can fall back on my experience and the general base fitness I’m building on throughout the week to keep me healthy.
Matching Your Training to Your Lifestyle
The line between too much and too little is thin.
Fall on one side and you show up under prepared. Fall on the other side and you burn out or push aside other important aspects of life.
What I hope to do through this approach is strike a balance in a sustainable way. To continue challenging myself while at the same time respecting my limits.
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes …