My Secret Weapon for Injury-free 100-Mile Training as an Older Runner

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As I was hammering out the details of my training schedule for my 100-mile race, I did a lot of research on the Internet. I compared many training plans and read articles from irunfar.com, Ultrarunning Magazine, and other trustworthy sources about just what a 100-mile training plan needs to include. Also, Fellrnr has a useful table comparing ultra training plans.

In order to complete a 100-mile race successfully, a runner needs to have built a good endurance base.  I felt secure in this area. I have been running ultras for almost 5 years and feel like I have a solid base.

But how many miles did I need in training to run to be ready for a hundred miler? Some 100-mile training plans call for mileage topping out at 80 or even 100 miles per week. I knew that was too much mileage for me. Many other sources agree that a runner need not accrue 80-100 miles per week, but one does need to be able to hit weekly totals of at least 50 and preferably 60 to 70 miles per week by a month out from the race.

I was starting at a point where I could comfortably run weekly mileage totals in the 40s, and I have topped out in the low to mid-50s in several training cycles. But 60-70 miles per week? That  made me anxious.  I have a history of injuries and an ongoing struggle with nagging tendinitis.  Would my trouble spots flare up into injuries if I ran that many miles?

Training for ultras is always a fine line between stressing your body and recovering without tipping into the injury zone. I knew it would be better to arrive at the starting line slightly under-trained but healthy rather than to arrive at the start having logged high mileage, but with nagging problems—or worst of all—to become injured during training and unable start the race at all. Through my past injuries and my continual efforts to stay injury-free while training for  ultras, I have learned several important things. First of all, as an older runner (I am 56), I need more recovery time than younger runners. This is why I only run four days per week and I don’t include many races in my training cycles.  I schedule easy recovery weeks every third (or sometimes every fourth) week.

Second, I know I need to be consistent with soft tissue work—foam rolling, rolling my feet with a lacrosse ball, and visiting my sports chiropractor for ART and Graston.  Third, strength training, mobility drills, and dynamic stretching are also important keys for me to stay injury free at higher mileage. And finally, cross training is valuable in order to add more training stress without greatly increasing the risk of injury. My bike has been my cross training tool of choice for the past couple of years.

I worked for hours trying to put all these components together into the best 100-mile training plan for ME.  I included strength/agility/mobility class twice a week, plus an additional day of workouts at home (slide boarding and kettlebells) for a total of three days weekly of strength training. I continued my four days per week running schedule, stacking strength on running days so I have 3 total rest days per week.  I planned to continue seeing my sports chiropractor at least every other week and more often if I felt on the edge with any trouble spots. I traded my twice-a-week bike cross training time for hiking time.

And I topped out my planned running mileage with two (non-consecutive) 65 mile weeks, while topping out my planned training mileage with three weeks in the 60s and two weeks in the 70s (73 and 76 miles).

Did that last statement confuse you? How could my running mileage peak at 65 miles per week and my training mileage top out at 76 miles?  It is because I decided to utilize a “secret weapon” to be able to run higher mileage with less injury risk.  That secret weapon is walking!

I have been using walk breaks in my everyday running for years. When I first started running and all my mileage and races were on the road, I thought if I took a walk break, I wasn’t a “real” runner. That attitude quickly changed when I joined the trail running community and started running longer distances. I saw that everyone walked up some of the hills!

For my first road marathon in 2010, I utilized Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method in training.  During the race, I took planned walk breaks from the beginning. In the final miles, I passed many runners who were not taking walk breaks and was able to finished strongly. I have utilized walk breaks in my running ever since, although on trails I let the terrain dictate when I will walk instead of using timed walk breaks. My walk breaks are usually short—less than a minute, and often only about 30 seconds—but these short breaks vary the way I am using my leg muscles, and I believe they help me avoid injury and log higher training mileage.

As I mapped out my training for my 100-mile race, I decided not only to continue with my run/walk method during my training runs, but also to extend my mileage and time on my feet by adding extra dedicated walking-only time after several runs each week. Hiking might be a more appropriate term. Many articles about preparing for a 100-mile race encourage you to practice hiking, since most of us will be doing a lot of it during the race.  I have also read that it is extremely beneficial to work on increasing your hiking speed, since this can make a huge difference to your hundred finish time! Accordingly, on my post-run hikes, I move as fast as I can and track my pace with my Garmin to see if I am improving. I am still not a fast hiker, but my average hiking pace has gotten better!

At least one hike each week is MITH—maximum incline treadmill hiking. This is to prepare me for the long climbs at Black Hills.  The treadmill I use maxes out at 12% grade. It surprised me how much of a workout MITH actually is! But then again, if I hike on the treadmill at 12% grade for 3 miles, that is the equivalent of climbing 1887 feet of vertical gain. No wonder it feels like a workout! During MITH (and all of my running and hiking except some recovery runs), I wear my loaded Salomon hydration vest to get used to packing the extra weight I will need to carry during the race.

When I finally got it all down on paper, here’s what it looked like:

My 100 training calendar
My 100 training calendar pg2

Please read these notes to understand my training schedule:

Please be aware that BEFORE I started the training cycle detailed above, I was comfortably running 35-45 mile weeks with 18-20 mile long runs for much of my previous training cycles over the past couple of years with peak weeks of 50 to 56 miles. I had also successfully completed many 50K races, a 50-mile race and a 101K race.

Any mileage that is not designated “road” is on trails, including hiking. For weeks that I have completed, I logged actual mileage on the training chart. Future weeks shown planned mileage.

Strength class involves mobility and form drills, plyometrics, speed drills, body weight exercises, and weight workouts with kettlebells and dumbbells, as well as lifting (dead lifts, cleans, squats, etc.).

The kettlebell workout I do at home on Mondays is called Kettlebells for the Running Athlete. It focuses on exercises designed by a physical therapist to be specifically beneficial for runners, including a lot of one-legged exercises to help reduce muscle imbalances (which I know I have and you probably do too). I have found it to be a great workout that will leave you almost too sore to walk the next day if you jump into it full blast.  I started with about half of the reps and gradually worked up to full reps.

Slide boarding is a great exercise for runners because it targets those all-important hip stabilizer muscles. I love the way I can reap large benefits with only a few minutes of slide boarding, and it’s fun!  We have a homemade slide board that my husband put together years ago when our kids were speed skating. A slide board is a rather unusual piece of exercise equipment, but if you can make or buy one, it is a great investment.  Here is an article by Matt Fitzgerald on the benefits of slide boarding for runners.

We don’t have hills 2-5 miles long around my home, so I am incorporating maximum incline treadmill hiking (MITH) to help me be strong enough to conquer the long climbs at Black Hills 100.  On other hiking days, I hike single track trails at Landhahl Park, finding as much elevation gain as I can. I throw in some hiking hill repeats on the killer STEEP hills of Argo Road, too.

I have also started adding a 1 to 3 mile hike at the end of my long run. I find that my usual achy trouble spots calm down nicely when I hike post-run, and it gives me extra mileage and extra time on my feet.

How do you incorporate walking/hiking in your training schedule?

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