Running an Ultra Marathon: Technical Aspects of Training, Gear, and Nutrition


Training Program

As I stated before, I followed a regiment of training consistently at low intensity. For the first 2 weeks, I ran 3-4 days a week, with a long run of 10 miles. I also trained with weights, and swam twice a week.

In weeks 3 and 4, I ran 4-5 days a week, with long runs of 15 and 22 miles. Even with those long runs, my average distance during the week was only 3-4 miles. Keep in mind that all of the runs were done at heart rate levels of 60-65% of max. Whenever my heart rate went over 165, I stopped running and would walk until it slowed down. My pace was nothing stellar, but I kept running.

Weeks 5 leading up to the race was strange, I traveled that week, stayed up too late, and didn’t run very much. At that point in training, what’s done is done, but I feel better when I can be mildly active.

In review, I can’t be upset about the training because I did meet my goal of finishing the race. I wish I could have run a bit faster and with less pain, but that’s alright. With more time to run extra miles, and especially the long runs, would have remedied that.
I will add that I think this plan is very doable for anyone looking to run 13+ miles. Scale the program to your needs, and stick with consistency over intensity. The miles will come!

Nutrition
I have become a regular user of Hammer Nutrition products. I also like/use Clif shots/blocks, and Honey Stinger chews. But what I like about Hammer is how complete their offerings are. They have a full line of products for the different stages of training, competition, and recovery.

Hammer products I used:

The only “real” food I carried on the run was a ProBar Superfood Slam. ProBars are my favorite energy bars, and their whole food ingredients, high caloric content, and flavor make them great for endurance activities. Read a little about their offerings and food culture on Adventure Journal.

I also ate one for breakfast on race day, which gave me a nice store of energy for the beginning of the race. I am NOT a fan of beginning a race on an empty stomach.

Finally, I did eat some of the aid station food, whatever looked good at the time. Mainly I ate bananas, oranges, m&m’s, potato chips (mmm… salt), and some chicken noodle soup (wonderfully warm). I do not count on these options for my the bulk of race calories, but they are a nice change up.

Gear

I feel very strongly about running gear. It’s important to have quality, lightweight, functional layers on, especially in a winter mess like the Mt Mitchell Challenge. Temps ranged from 30 degrees at start, 45 degrees and sunny at 10 miles, then 10 degrees with 50 mph winds at the summit. Wrap that up with descending back to 55 degrees and sunny at the finish. My gear had to breathe, keep me from overheating, warm me from the cold, and protect me from the wind. A tall order, but I was extremely pleased with the pieces I wore.

Patagonia Houdini Jacket

I love this jacket, best piece of gear I’ve bought in years. I wore it during a pouring rainstorm, snow, and then 50 mph winds, and it stood up to all of them. The hood is great, and even with the extra ounce it weighs, totally worth it. The Houdini weighs just 4.3 oz, and packs in to it’s own pocket, or stuffs in to a front pocket in most shorts. Patagonia hit a home run with this piece.

Patagonia Speedwork Tights

My first pair of running pants, and I really like them. Stayed cool or warm in the right conditions, and mesh behind the knees allows them to breath. They don’t wrap muscles as well as Salomon or CWX tights, but they are also cheaper. They fit well, were tough through 2 falls, and kept me moving. Unfortunately this product seems to be in the process of being discontinued, so you can probably grab it on clearance somewhere.

Patagonia Capilene 2 T-Shirt I’m a big fan of Patagonia, as you can tell. The Cap2 shirt is fantastic across a wide range of temps, and paired with arm warmers and the Houdini, I was perfectly comfortable throughout the run. My favorite running shirt.

Smartwool Arm Warmers, Compression Socks, & Running Socks – Wool is a dream fabric to be outdoors in, and I love it for the extremities. In keeping with the theme of lightweight comfort across temps, all of these fit the bill. The arm warmers are on of my favorite pieces no matter what, because they are so easy to strip on and off during a run. They can also be pulled down to cover the hands as makeshift mittens. The compression socks are nice, giving me a little extra warmth, and caring for my calves. A complaint though is that over 18 months they have developed more holes and rips than I expected. The socks are fantastic, and I wore them over the compression socks because of the holes and cold (the compression socks are thin).

REI Stoke 19 Pack

I probably didn’t even need to carry this, but considering the conditions I knew it would give me some peace of mind. The pack is fine, I wish it was a little more stable, and I don’t need 19 liters of space. It’s more of a day pack, but I’m not going out to buy another pack simply for long-haul running. Yet. I was able to easily fit 50 oz of water, food & gels, my ipod nano (long time in the woods), a wool layer, extra socks, and YakTrax.

Nike Therma-Fit beanie – I picked this up at a Nike outlet, and it’s served me well. Soft shell outer, fleece interior, and wicking headband. I like it, but it’s not a game changer. Most beanies will do, depending on your preference. I would certainly recommend anything that wicks sweat and breathes. No cotton headgear!

Mountain Hardwear Momentum Running Gloves – I appreciate that they are light, and have a windproof shell. However, they do not keep my hands as warm as I expected. I attribute this mainly to “butter jersey” palm fabric. Yes, it’s soft, but the wind goes right through it, and doesn’t not hold heat well. Fine, but not a cold weather glove.

New Balance 101 Shoes (link to updated design) –

The foundation of a run is the choice of footwear. I have been running in these shoes since October 2010, having trained for and completed the Black Mountain Marathon, Stumpjump 50k, and now the Mt Mitchell Challenge. I have run an estimated 1000 miles in these babies, and this race was a fun send-off for them. They are light, breathable, have a 10mm heel-toe drop (which was awesome in October ’10) and a rock plate on the forefoot. Weight is an airy 7.48 oz. New Balance has since updated the model, but if you would like to read my original review, click here.

In Conclusion:

Overall, I did not need most of the stuff I had in my pack, especially the YakTrax. I could have been fine with 2 water bottles with hand jackets, and had a couple too many gels. But I wasn’t out to win, and knew I would be out for a significant amount of time. Better to be safe than sorry in that situation. Next year I will have trained and planned a little better, and even if there was a question of needing YakTrax, I could have holstered them on my elbows (picture to come). But that’s for a future run, and lessons I needed to learn on this one. Let me know if you guys have any questions about a topic I left out, or a fuller review of something.

Happy Running!

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2 thoughts on “Running an Ultra Marathon: Technical Aspects of Training, Gear, and Nutrition

  1. Pingback: Trail Runner Magazine Publishes My Article | Matt Ragland

  2. Pingback: Trail Runner Magazine Publishes My Article | Life, Prioritzed

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