Ultras can seem like an impossible feat, but with a great plan and persistence you can do it. The 2018 CATs/Crozet Running 50K training plan prepares you for the Promise Land 50K on April 28. But you can also use this program to prepare for another trail 50K.
The training plan calls for long trail runs on Saturdays. If you’d like to do your long runs with fellow trail runners, make sure you sign up for the CATs Facebook Group and CAT Email List to see if a group run is organized. Some Saturday runs will be lead by CAT board members, but we encourage all participants to use our Facebook group and email list to organize runs. For ideas on where to go, check out our overview of local trails and VHTRC’s Furbutts Favorite Training Runs.
Note: If you are not a CATs-member and have never signed our liability waiver, please do so before joining a run. Click here for the waiver.
Training Plan Outline
Now let’s adjust this outline for YOU:
Training plans like the one we have outlined above are very useful tools, giving runners a basic framework upon which to lay their weekly running plans in preparation for a specific event. The above plan is for a runner who is able to run 4 days a week and for whom this is your first 50K. Note, this is not a high mileage plan – if you are newer to long distance running, don’t worry! We want you to show up to the start line fresh and not “over-trained”. It is much better to show up to race day under-trained and healthy than over-trained and injured. If you are an experienced long distance runner, please feel free to add time and miles to this basic framework to suit your abilities.
If you can/prefer to run 5 days per week, we recommend that you still take a day for “Active Recovery/Cross Training” and simply trade an OFF day for another “1 Hour Easy” run. We still recommend that you take at least one day completely OFF per week to let your body recover. It is important that sleep, rest, and recovery are just as important as running in order to allow our bodies to adapt to our training! And remember that your bed is one of your most important training tools (ie, a good sleep schedule is very important!)
Training plan outlines like ours above do have limits however because each individual runner’s fitness level, life schedule, and ability to adapt are so unique and different, that one single plan simply cannot fit everyone. Thus, it is very important that we modify the above plan to fit your unique abilities, preferences, and life schedule.
If you are an experienced marathon runner, and have previously incorporated regular workouts into your training – great! You have experience to know how your body handles these types of workouts. Do what you are comfortable with and what you have fun with!
You can see from the above plan, that each week starts on a Monday and
ends on a Sunday. Also, you can see that each week is centered around two “quality days” – one workout and one long trail run. The rest of the days are ALL EASY – again, it is so important to resist the urge to do another workout, or run these days at a medium effort! You will get more out of your quality days and your long runs if you are fresh and rested for them!
The scheduled days above of course should be modified to your own life schedule. Some of us are better suited to doing longer runs during the week, and some of us cannot run on certain days of the week. The key in scheduling your week is to make sure you are rested for your quality days. So, ideally you’d like to separate your workout from your long run by at least 2 days if possible, both before and after.
“1 HOUR EASY” – These easy runs are meant to keep your legs moving and getting you more miles and time on your feet, however in the least taxing way. When we say “easy”, we mean “EASY”! Do not worry about your pace on these runs! It is best just not to look at pace!! Instead, focus on a SUPER EASY effort – even walk some uphills. And don’t worry so much about mileage, but make sure you are out there and moving for an hour. If you are feeling great, don’t hesitate to stretch these easy efforts out to 1:15, but again, keep them EASY! These are your recovery runs, use them as such!
“ACTIVE RECOVERY/CROSS TRAINING” – On these days, get out and do some active recovery or cross training. Active recovery is like a step below your easy runs. Good examples of this are hiking with the family or dogs, going to the park with friends, going on a really easy bike ride or a long walk, etc. You will find that you will recover from your long runs much better if you get out and move for at least an hour the next day. Cross training is simply any other type of exercise – swimming, yoga, mountain biking – keep it fun! Depending on your level of fitness, be careful with intense cross training – we don’t want you sore and wrecked from these sessions, as they are meant to compliment your running fitness.
“WORKOUT” – These are your toughest days of the week. This is where you’re going to work on getting uncomfortable – whether SPEED workouts (track, fartleks – see below, THRESHOLD workouts (tempo running, cruise intervals), or HILL workouts, these will all get your legs turning over faster, get your heart rate and breathing up, and they will help you to become more fit – improving your running economy, your speed, your oxygen delivery, your strength, and your mental toughness.
Again, here is where you may want to modify this program – if you hate running at the track, or if running fast seems to make you really sore, maybe you should substitute for more hill workouts. Alternatively, if your calves and glutes seem overworked from the hills, maybe you should throw in some more threshold running. If doing workouts are new to you, just experiment, and err on the side of doing these too easy vs. too hard! **Always start and end EVERY workout, regardless of type, with at least 1 mile of easy running. On the really cold mornings, you may find you need 2 miles to really warm up!
Your workouts should take you anywhere from 60-75 minutes, including the warm up and cool down.
HILL WORKOUTS: These are typically intervals run up hills, with easy recovery back down the hill. There are many different variations, so play with these and find what works for you. A few suggestions:
- Hill repeats: Find a nice hill and let’s do some repeats! Consider a workout such as 10 x 30-90 seconds, followed by 2-3 minutes rest after each interval. You can make these shorter or longer, but try for consistent speed and time up the hill repeats – ie, your 10 th hill repeat is the same time/speed as your first.
- Long Hill repeats: Find a long hill, ie one that is ½ to 2 miles long and do some repeats up the hill. These will be slower efforts than the shorter repeats, but they will help your endurance. Again, be sure to pace yourself so you are not walking the top of the hill, or the last of the repeats. An example is 3 x 1 mile – finish the mile-long hill, run back down easy, rest, and repeat.
SPEED WORKOUTS: These are interval workouts – running relatively short intervals hard, followed by rest intervals, and repeating. SPEED workouts should be run at a hard effort, think 85-90% effort. However, pacing is important. Your last intervals of the workout should be at the same intensity and pace as your first ones. So, start easy and you will soon learn what a sustainable speed workout pace is. Below are a few suggested workouts – but feel free to adjust these and have fun! If you are new to speed workouts, EASE into them.
- On the track – Warm up, then 8-10 x 400m, with a 200m recovery between each interval, and a 400m recovery lap after a set of 4-5. Then cool down. (400m is one lap at the track, 200m is a half lap… So, you will run one lap at a hard effort, and walk or really slow jog a ½ lap, then repeat. After 4-5 intervals, take a full lap recovery and then start your second “set”).
- On the track – Warm up, then a “ladder” workout – 4 x 200m with 200m recovery, then 2 x 400m with a 200m recovery, then 1 x 800 (2 laps) with a 400m recovery, then 2 x 200m, then cool down.
- On the road or trail – Warm up, then 10 “fartleks” – random intervals of fast running – just come up with some 30 second-3 minute intervals – ie, “run to the stop sign up ahead”, or “from this crosswalk to the playground”…have fun with these and challenge yourself. Just be sure to give yourself an equal time of rest between the intervals.
THRESHOLD WORKOUTS: These are longer efforts of “uncomfortable” running, lasting anywhere from 3-6 miles during a workout. If you use a heart rate monitor, these should be run at about 80-90% of your maximum heart rate, or about 75-85% effort. If you’re going by effort, these are uncomfortable, and you are often only speaking 2-3 word sentences. Some specific suggestions:
- The tempo run: Warm up for 2 miles, then run 3-6 miles at the threshold/uncomfortable pace, then run 1-2 miles as a cool down. You should be running the same effort during the entire tempo portion of the run, so try to pace it so your last mile of the tempo running is the same effort as the first. Note – if you do your tempo runs on our hilly roads, your exact pace will vary depending on the hills. Keep the general speed/effort consistent and don’t worry about slight variations in pace.
- Cruise Intervals: Warm up for 2 miles, then run the same threshold effort/pace, but only for 1 mile, then take a 30-60 second break of really easy jogging, then repeat another interval. Do 3-6 “cruise intervals”
- 2-mile intervals: Warm up, then run 2 miles at threshold pace, and take a longer break (2-3 minutes), and repeat. Do 2-3 repeats of this for a total of 4-6 miles.
“Hill 2” Workouts: As we get near the end of your key portion of the training block, lets step up the intensity of the Hill running workouts. Either lengthen the time of your uphill running intervals (ie, from 30 second uphill repeats to 60 or 120 second repeats) and do the same number, or increase the number of uphill running intervals (ie do 10 x 30 seconds vs. 6 x 30 seconds). A great “epic” hill workout here in Crozet is doing 3-minute intervals all the way up the 3-mile gravel portion of Jarmans. 3 minutes on, 2 minutes off (walking). This is a TOUGH workout, but its only as tough as you make it and it will give you great confidence in tackling the long hills that you have in your first 50K.
“LONG TRAIL RUN”: These are your long runs, your most important runs of the week. It is very important to get out on the trails for your long runs, however doing some occasional long runs on hilly roads such as Dickwoods Road, Fox Mountain loop, or Decca/Ridge are also good substitutes. But you definitely need a lot of time on your feet, you need to get your legs used to the uneven terrain and the long uphills, and just as important the long downhills.
- We have so many great trails in this area! Sugar Hollow, the AT starting at Afton or Jarmans, Carter’s Mountain in C’ville – the key here is race specificity. So if you are running Promise Land 50k, which has several climbs and descents that are 3-4 miles long, you need to get your body experienced at 3-4 mile climbs and descents, so you should do a lot of your trail runs in Shenandoah National Park, on Jarmans, or in the National Forest where you can get these types of experiences. If you are running a trail race with less elevation change (such as Holiday Lake 50K), then you are probably better off sticking to trails with similar elevation changes such as Walnut Creek Park, the Rivanna trail, or the hilly roads such as Dickwoods and Ridge.
- Another important reason for doing the long trail runs is learning how to eat while running. During your 50k, you want a goal of consuming about 200-300 calories per hour. What works best for you? Gels? Blocks? Sports drink? PB&J sandwiches? You need to figure this out because you will NEED to eat on race day. Simple carb options like Gels, Blocks, and sports drink mixes tend to be the easiest for your body to digest on the run, but everyone is different and some people do better with real food. But ideally these should be mostly simple carbohydrates, which your body can assimilate rapidly.
- The last important benefit of the long run is simply getting “time on your feet”. Perhaps you’ve run a marathon in 4 hours. Well, your 20-mile group trail run might take 4.5 hours – and although you may not be “running” the entire time, you are still out there moving for a very long period of time, and there is a lot of “body management” you will start to learn the longer you are out on the trail.
Ok, now you have a lot of great tools to personalize your training plan, now lets find some friends and go hit the trails! Please don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any specific training questions. Also please ask questions on the Facebook Group, as we have lots of experienced trail runners standing by to chime in with their excellent advice.
Great reads for new trail runners
John Andersen bundled his trail running knowledge and experience in “The Ultra Training Handbook” A great read for both new and more experienced trail runners. In his article “trail ultra is the new marathon” John talks about the differences between trail ultras and regular marathons.