In the following series of articles I would like to say a few things about races that are longer than one day. This kind of races is quite different from other ultra races. From my own experiences I would like to speak about how to train, what race strategy to choose, what equipment you will need and what to do to not to get injured.
Everyone is using his own training methods. There are things that work for us and things that do not work. Multiday races are a unique kind of races. Your body has to be able to work hard during a long period of time. Regeneration time is very short, you so have to be able to regenerate while running. Your speed has to be adjusted to that. You can’t expect to run at your marathon pace (or even 12 or 24 hour pace) and to regenerate you body. You have to learn to listen to your body.
We can divide preparation for a multi day race into two parts, physical and mental. Physical preparation is clear. But mental preparation is also necessary. We are not ready for that amount of stress from our day to day life. We have to learn to work with our mind. It can be the source of energy but it can be also our end.
When you decided to run a multi day race, it is almost necessary to have a few years of training behind and it is good to run some ultra races before. Usually you are starting with marathons, then ultra races come and finally you are come to multidays races. It is good to run some 12 or 24 hour races before. There you can test how your body responds to such a stress. In your training you should focus on long runs, of course. This is very time consuming so you have to count with it. You have to consider how much time you can spend running on week days and how much at weekend. But you can be sure if you want to focus on multi days running, it will affect your personal life too. You should start to train a long in advance. You can’t get in shape for a multi day race in a month or two. That’s why it is good to plan your race a year ahead. For your first time it is good to choose a race where you run against the clock and not against the distance. There is a much more pressure in races like 700 miles than in races against the clock (like a 6 day race).
If you have chosen your race, you can set your goal. This is very important because from this you can set your training plan. You have to consider you experiences and your shape too. If you have set your goal, you can start to plan your training. And now I will tell you something that will shock you. You can’t train for a multi day race! If you train for a marathon, you can run 2 hours daily. But how much should you train for a 6 or 10 day race or even a 3100 mile race? 10 hours, 15 hours a day? No, it is impossible. We are limited by the time and by the abilities of our body. From my own experiences I know that the best training for a multi day race is the multi day race itself. During my first 10 day race to run 50 miles a day was a real problem. But with each race my capacity was increasing. This year during 3100 mile race I was able to run 100 km (62 miles) for 27 days (then I was slowed down by an injury).
Basically, my preparation for the next race starts right after I have finished the last one. Our body needs some time to regenerate. After a 6 or 10 day race it can be a month or two (after 3100 miles it can be a few months). During this period I usually have longer breaks between trainings (a day or two, sometimes three), but I try to be active at least a little bit. My trainings usually take one hour, sometimes during weekends two hours. When I feel my body has started to regenerate, I increase my running to two hours. 6 months before the race I start to train fully on regular base. I run on week days form Tuesday to Friday two hours daily, on Saturday three and on Sunday two hours again. I have a day off on Monday. Three months before the race I start to have longer runs at weekends. Saturday is my main day for long runs. I usually run for 5 or 6 hours, or if there is a marathon or ultra race around, I participate but usually only at my training pace. On Sunday I usually have a 2 or 3 hour run. This kind of run after my Saturday run teaches my body to regenerate faster, which is necessary for a multi day race. During that period I usually run 500-600 km a month. If you consider this, many marathon runners run that much too. You can increase your training even to 1000 km a month, but for that you need a lot of time, which most of us don’t have (and I don’t think to run these amounts for a longer time is effective). As most of the runners, I spend most of my time at work. So I had to shape my daily routine to be able to run during the week. I usually wake up at 4:45 am and at 6:00 am I’m starting my 2 hour run. When I come back at 8:00, I have enough time just to take a shower and go to work.
It is good to include body building into your training plan. Running is very hard for your spine. With each step your spine vertebrae, especially in your lower back, have to hold the impact of your whole upper body. You take 900 or 1000 steps per kilometer, that means during 100 km race you will take 100 000 steps. This is why your strong abdominal and lower back muscles are so important. These body parts are interconnected and they are supporting your upper body. Do not neglect any of them. If one of them is much stronger than the other, the stronger muscles will pull the weaker ones to their side and it will weaken them even more. If your lower back muscles are weak, you will feel pain in that part of your body, if your abdominal muscles are weak, you will feel pain in your groins. Our spine does not only provide a support for our body, but our spine cord is spreading nerve impulses to our legs. And also there is a main energetic canal in our spine. During extreme loads, and multi day running provides such a load, some of our vertebrae can stoop from their ideal position. Your nerves will not be able to carry the impulses to your muscles properly and also subtle energy will not be able to flow properly through your spine. You will not be able to control some of your muscles in your legs properly and your running will drop considerably. Also your body position will change and it will cause uneven loading of your legs. It happens very often that the runner starts to have problems with his knees or joints. Strengthening of your stomach and lower back muscles can help to hold your vertebrae in a proper position. But if that happens, because even those muscles can get tired, a good chiropractor can help you to get your spine to proper position again. Race organizers usually try to get some chiropractors at least from time to time (but it is not always possible).
Another very important part of your preparation is mental preparation. Multi day races are very special in this aspect. You are exposed to an extreme physical load, lack of sleep, pain, monotony and many other factors during a very long time. This can put your mental system under extreme pressure. Very often it happens that a runner gives up the race because he or she is not able to endure this stress any more. The most important thing is to realize what you will have to go through already before the race. It is good if you are able to test the effects of those factors on yourself at some shorter ultra races before. If you know how you can endure pain, lack of sleep and monotony, then you can start to look for solutions how to avoid problems later in the race. Each of us is unique and every one of us has a different approach how to deal with those problems. In my case I always try to focus my mind in a positive way. There are always problems during this kind of race. Pain is always there, tiredness and lack of sleep is your everyday companion. But I have learned that there is a much stronger source of energy inside us than any problem that is waiting for us out there. That energy is not in our muscles but it is there, deep inside us. If you can silence your mind even for a moment, you will be able to feel this energy. But of course, it is very difficult to control this energy while you are running and if you are not fully focusssed. But if you practice regularly and for a longer time, the same way as you practice running, you will learn how to get to this energy even on your subconscious level that means you will not need to be fully focused all the time. If you can do that, you will be able to do the things which you consider impossible. Everything starts with your belief that you can do it. Doubt and fear are your the worst enemies. If you are a victim of fear and doubt, you are focusing your energy in a wrong way and you are losing it. In my case, I have learned not to worry about things which I can’t change and accept thing as they come. I can’t change if it is raining. So I accept it and do not worry about it. I can’t change that I got an injury so I accept it and I try to go on as fast as my injury allows me. The best sportsmen are not best because of the power of their muscles but because of the power of their mind.
I hope these few experiences of mine will help you in your preparation for your first marathon, ultra race or multi day race. Take what you feel is good for you. Because what is good for me need not be good for you. Each of us is unique.