Ultramarathon Training Tips by Jonel Mendoza

Jonel Mendoza of FrontRunner Magazine shared these tips during the briefing of the 1st Cebu Ultramarathon held last November 27, 2010 and I’d like to post this here for my friends who will be running the frontRUNNER Coast to Coast Ultramarathon on May 1, 2011.

Training for an ultramarathon includes mental training, walk training, nutrition training, and B2B LSDs.  Jonel’s tips really helped a lot.  This type of training is so much different to ones that are for half or full marathons.

Here’s what he wrote:

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To endure, that is the essence of ultrarunning.

The Warrior Attitude.  The key to successful mental training is having the “warrior attitude”.  A warrior goes to battle focused, with desire, motivation, discipline, belief, self-esteem, confidence, courage, and mental toughness to win in battle.  He prepares a wise and smart strategy, dwells on it, and executes it while staying calm and fending off pain and fatigue.  He prepares to fight the ultimate fight.  A warrior is willing to let his mind take his body to the ultimate test.  I am a warrior.  Are you?
Mental Toughness.  “If you want to learn to run through pain, you have to experience the pain first.  That is the essence of the weekend b2b’s (back-to-backs).  Familiarity with discomfort breeds comfort.  You must experience hurt during training.  Pushing through difficult moments is a matter of maintaining your composure, so relax.  As the pain intensifies, become more relaxed.  The best way to relax is focus on your effort, maintain your form through controlled rhythmic breathing.  Inhale and exhale long steadily.  Let your mind control your body.  Real athletes are able to perform better by going in, by focusing very closely on what the body is doing.  When you don’t pay attention to the body, you lose touch.  You lose control.  These are things you need to practice before you get into a race.  With practice, you can learn to tap your deepest reserves of strength and energy.”
Weekly Mileage.  Whatever you are comfortable doing for a marathon should be sufficient.  50-60k a week is enough for some, while others may do 100-120k a week.  More mileage is not necessarily the key as more mileage may mean more wear and tear of your body.  The magic lies in using your head to get the most out of your training mileage that you can manage.  Do take rest days or days off from running.  Recover and enjoy some time off.
The suggest program’s essence is the back-to-back long runs on weekends.  It is to teach and train your body and mind to get systematically exposed to the stress and pain of doing back-to-backs.  In effect, it is during the b2b’s that you practice you ACTUAL race pace.  Be sure to time your walk breaks.  I suggest you EAT and DRINK during your walk breaks.
So as not to lose your speed, the mid-days are to be done with best efforts at marathon/half-marathon or 15k race pace, if you can.
Slow Work.  Practice running with minimal effort.  Be smooth, flexible and relaxed.  On your easy training days, run with the least possible effort.  Land gently on your feet, and relax your upper body.
Walking.  Walking is a sign of doing the ultra smartly.  Incorporate this in your training.  Do 30 minutes run then walk for 5 minutes or 20 and 5 or at a combination that will work best for you.  It is equally smart to do this during your long runs where you will be simulating your race pace.  You will find that you can go farther with this method.
Walk early on.  Walking prevents the early build-up of lactic acid and early depletion of glycogen stores early in the run.  And the walk breaks give you something to look forward to, something like a reward.  Besides, cutting the 50k into segments will make it easier for you than taking the 50k in one sweep.
Learn to walk well.  Walking uses different sets of muscles therefore it stresses a different set of joints and tendons.  If your body is not used to this kind of stress, it will be sore, during and after the event.  Knowing that you will walk makes it pretty obvious that you should spend some training time on your walking.
Think in terms of time and not kilometers.  Start close to home.  Think of a loop course so that you will find relatively easier in managing the time going to and from your turnaround point.  And walk the inclines.  Bring something to eat and drink, if not bring a little cash with you.
Specific Training.  Check/visit the route and if possible, do at least one test run of a reasonable portion (15-20k) of it.  Acclimatize by running during the hours you would expect to be running the actual event.  During training days and when you cannot actually train on the race route, try your best to look for a route that best simulates the actual terrain.  As much as you would learn how to walk the inclines, learn also to run gently down the slopes so as not to put so much strain on your leg muscles.
Training to Eat and Drink.  Take drinks and food with you to find out and learn what works best for you.  Do not experiment with your diet and hydration during race day itself.  Do not wait to be hungry or thirsty.
Try to learn to be able to carry a hydration bottle/pack and little food during training even if you expect to have a support car to assist you.  It would be best to always have these in case your support gets lost or cannot be located.
Tapering.  Less running is better.  A lot less is a lot better – during the last 3 weeks, that is.  No amount of more time and more kilometers on the road will help you if insist on pushing the ante in the last 3 weeks.  You will just get more tired.  The last three weeks is the most crucial time when you start building up on your glycogen stores and relaxing and making your muscles grow stronger.  It is during these periods of rest that you become stronger.
You must at the staring line, be well-rested, well-fed and well-hydrated.
Race Strategy.  Stick to your plan and pace.  This is a long way to go.  Do not let your exuberance get the better of you.  Ultras are ruined more in the 1st 15k than in the last 10k when runners push themselves very hard right out at the start.
            Remain focused on your goal, the finish line.  Focus on running and walking as smoothly and relaxed as possible.
            If you are breathing too hard, you are going out too fast.  Slow down.  It might feel strange to be walking after just 20-30 minutes of running but you will be thankful you did, especially in the homestretch.  Walking will loosen up your muscles and relax you.
            Walk early and walk often.  And as the race goes on, feel free to adjust the ratio of your run-walk segments.  If you do this well, you will pass by the 42k mark wondering what ever happened to the dreaded wall.
            If you start slowly and keep the same pace throughout, you will pass many people in the last 10 or 20 kilometers.
            If you want to finish within the cut-off, do not take too much time in aid stations or when getting supplies from support cars.  The timer does not stop during rest periods.  Eat and drink on the go.  Have a list of items you want ready by the time you reach your support crew so as to save you time from rummaging through your stuff.  Try not to sit for so long.  Your muscles may get stiff if you do.
            Break the course into segments and do not think of and tackle the 50k as one long race.  Completion of each stage will boost your mental side.  Your legs may be doing the work but the mind tells the legs what to do.  The mind is capable of doing amazing things, not the least getting you to the finish line successfully
Problems.  Some things will surely go wrong.  Your stomach may rebel, joints will get sore and blisters may appear.  Never run in anything new (new shoes, especially) during race day.
You start out too fast.  This is something I cannot help you with.  Be disciplined enough to follow your race pace plan by all means.  You will be making other runners happy as they pass you by later in the race if you go out fast too soon.
Your stomach rebels.  Antacids may help.  Or try changing drinks.  Drinking the same stuff for hours sometimes becomes a bore.  Try t have soup.  Make sure there is a variety of food and drinks you have tested in your support car if any.
Blisters.  A good pair of socks, properly fitting shoes, grease or tape will help prevent blisters.  Have a medical crew check it.  Or do as the veterans do – prick the blister with sterilized needle, let the liquid out, clean with antiseptic or alcohol, apply fast-drying glue and put tape.
Your feet swell after many hours on the road.  Try to bring an extra pair of shoes.  Run gently and do not charge the downhills.  Save your feet and quads.
Biomechanical problems.  Joints hur, muscles cramp, tendons complain.  Cramps may be caused by nutritional deficiencies.  So eat and drink something salty.  Stretch or change shoes or change your stride.  Running with  a hilly course may seem daunting but it is better than a flat out course since you will be stressing different sets of muscles time and again.  Just make sure that you do some fair amount of training in a route that approximates the actual terrain.
Energy.  You run out of gas.  Hang in there and do not quit.  Drinking something sweet to counter your low sugar will get you going in 10 or 15 minutes.  Sometimes you are dehydrated so must force yourself to drink a huge amount.  Walk for awhile.  Walking in an ultra is positive since it means you are getting closer to your goal of finishing.
It may feel miserable but do not quit.  Do not let quitting enter your mind.  Feeling down is part of the whole ultra experience.  The distance seems far and your efforts may seem not enough.  Ultra blues usually pass and it is normal to feel dead one moment and be full of life and energy the next.
            Run; do not race your first ultra.  Finish within the goal time (8 hours for 50k=9:36pace).  Run a comfortable pace.  Conversation must be easy and take regular walk breaks starting as early as 30 minutes into the race.  Drink regularly and eat as the race goes on 50k may sound like a long distance – and it is a long distance – but it can be done and enjoyed by any runner.  It may be a big physical challenge, but the bigger challenge which you should not overlook it the mental aspect.  Being smart rather than being macho will make the event easier and more fun.
            Aid station volunteers and marshals will help you get through your first ultra.  They will spend as much time on the road with you.  You will only deal with yourself while they have to deal with ALL runners.
            Lastly, if in shorter races, you compete against your fellow runner, in an ultra, you compete with each other.  Help each other out, either through words of encouragement or offering your supplies.
“Running teaches us to challenge ourselves.  It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go.  It helps us find out what we are made of.  This is what we do as ultrarunners.  This is what it’s all about.
What we dread, we should relish.”

Below are the scanned copies of the original handouts Jonel distributed.


6 thoughts on “Ultramarathon Training Tips by Jonel Mendoza

  1. sir have a nice day,im rhanny delos santos ordona of toledo cebu city,i would like to inquire how to register the may 1,2011 ultra marathon,thanx to your reply

  2. sir this is rhanny again can u please give me any contact number for more inquires about may 1,2011 ultra marathon,thank you very much.sir my mobile #09227235119 & 09176315764

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