MYTH… You NEED to do 50+ miles a week to run an ultramarathon !
No, no you don’t need to run stupid mileage weeks to run an ultramarathon. Contrary to the common misconception, completing a 50 mile ultra marathon doesn't require logging endless miles on a weekly basis. In this enlightening blog post, we debunk the myth that you must accumulate astronomical mileage to conquer the 50 mile ultra marathon challenge. Get ready to explore effective training strategies, expert insights, and practical tips that will empower you to achieve your ultramarathon goals without sacrificing your sanity. It's time to dispel the notion that more miles always equals better performance. Let's dive in and discover the truth behind training for a 50 mile ultra marathon.
In reality, what you need is smart training, an understanding of your own body, and the tenacity to push through challenges, all without being sucked into the myth that you need to clock in excessive mileage each week. In this post, we're about to shake up some common misconceptions about ultramarathon training, particularly the myth that you need to run a staggering 50+ miles a week to successfully run a 50-mile ultra.
Here's an important thing to remember before we start: this isn't about training less, but about training smarter. So, if you're eyeing up your first ultra, or if you're an experienced ultra runner looking to adjust your training regimen, keep reading. This post is about to challenge some deep-seated beliefs about the ultra training process.
Ffs… there are times when I wish I could use one of those fucking Men In Black memory wiping things and change people’s mindsets around what is myth versus reality
Whilst “more running” is “better”, that is only to a certain point!
To fully understand this concept, we need to consider our busy, everyday lives, filled with jobs, families, and countless responsibilities. This means that emulating the lifestyle of elite runners is not feasible for many of us. Imagine trying to squeeze in a 30km run on a random Tuesday morning, followed by a 2-hour nap and a therapeutic massage. It sounds dreamy, but the reality is that we've got other commitments to fulfill.
That being said, we should not use our busy schedules as an excuse not to push ourselves. The aim here isn't to dissuade you from challenging yourself, but rather to emphasize the importance of balance and the crucial role of recovery time in any running regimen.
The Science of Running Volume and Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, running more isn't always beneficial. There's scientific evidence that supports this statement. A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that runners who exceed 45 miles per week increase their injury risk by as much as 17% . In other words, adding miles to your weekly running routine might not be a wise idea, especially if it's done without proper recovery time.
The act of running stresses the body, breaking down muscle tissue, and creating microscopic tears. The body then adapts and rebuilds during periods of rest and recovery, coming back stronger and more resilient. But if you continually stress your body without giving it enough time to recover, you risk overuse injuries, fatigue, and other health problems, as noted by the Mayo Clinic .
This is a point echoed by many experts in the field. Renowned running coach Hal Higdon, for instance, often stresses the importance of rest days in his marathon training plans, explaining that "Rest is as important a part of your training as the runs. You will be able to run the long runs on the weekend better and limit your risk of injury if you rest before, and rest after" .
Running coach and sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald, in his book "80/20 Running," argues for the principle of polarized training, which states that runners should spend 80% of their time at low intensity and 20% at moderate to high intensity. The aim is to maximize the benefits of training while minimizing the risks of injury and burnout .
This isn't to say you shouldn't increase your running volume at all; rather, increases should be gradual and accompanied by appropriate recovery time. As cited by the "10% rule" commonly adopted by runners and coaches alike, you should aim to increase your total weekly mileage by no more than 10% from week to week to prevent injury .
So, while it's certainly important to challenge yourself, remember that more isn't always better. Finding a balance between running, recovery, and life's other commitments is crucial to maintain health and improve performance.
- Buist, I., Bredeweg, S. W., Lemmink, K. A., van Mechelen, W., & Diercks, R. L. (2010). Predictors of Running-Related Injuries in Novice Runners Enrolled in a Systematic Training Program: A Prospective Cohort Study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(2), 273–280.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019, March 12). Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries.
- Higdon, H. (n.d.). Novice 1 Marathon.
- Fitzgerald, M. (2014). 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower.
- Nielsen, R. O.,
15% more miles don’t equate to 15% improvements
The relationship between the increase in mileage and improvement in performance is far from being linear. The idea that running an extra 15% in miles will improve your performance by 15% is a common misconception that many runners harbor. It's intuitive to think that way, but running performance doesn't always follow this straightforward arithmetic.
The Law of Diminishing Returns
This concept, drawn from the economic principle known as the law of diminishing returns, also applies to running. In the context of training, it suggests that a point is reached where additional training does not equate to equivalent improvements. In fact, it might result in negligible or even negative results due to overtraining.
A comprehensive review of endurance training conducted by Mujika & Padilla in 2000 found that after an optimal volume is reached, further increases in training volume do not result in improvements in performance . For many elite endurance athletes, this optimal volume appears to be around 8-9 hours per week.
Renowned running coach Jack Daniels, Ph.D., echoes this sentiment. He points out in his popular book, "Daniels' Running Formula," that improving performance is more about the quality of your training than simply increasing the quantity . His training philosophy focuses on individualized plans that incorporate a balance of easy runs, threshold work, interval training, and long runs.
Greg McMillan, another esteemed running coach and exercise physiologist, suggests that “Rather than running more mileage, improving your running form, your nutrition, your strength and flexibility, and your mental skills are often better ways to improve your performance" .
What It Means for You
In summary, while increasing mileage can undoubtedly contribute to improved running performance, it's not the only factor, nor does it offer a direct, proportional boost. A smart runner knows to focus on quality, varied workouts, ample recovery, and other aspects of training such as strength and conditioning, nutrition, mental preparation, and more. Keep in mind that every additional mile is not just another tick on your training log, but also another demand on your body requiring recovery.
- Mujika I., & Padilla S. (2000). Detraining: loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptations. Part I: short term insufficient training stimulus. Sports Medicine, 30(2), 79-87.
- Daniels, J. (2013). Daniels' Running Formula. Human Kinetics.
- McMillan, G. (n.d.). Run Less to Run Better? McMillan Running
Every Runner is different
In the world of running, a "one-size-fits-all" approach simply does not work. Each runner is unique, with their individual strengths, weaknesses, lifestyles, and personal goals. A successful training program needs to reflect these factors and be customized to the runner's specific needs.
The Science Behind Individual Differences
Research has shown that there's a significant degree of individuality in how people respond to endurance training. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2005 noted that individuals can show a wide range of responses to identical exercise programs .
Another study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that runners have individual 'breaking points' for the number of miles they can run before injury sets in. For some, the breaking point may be at 30 miles per week, while others can comfortably handle 60 miles per week .
In the book "The Sports Gene," David Epstein also discusses how genetic factors can play a significant role in how an athlete responds to training .
Well-known coaches and experts in the field also highlight the importance of individualized training plans.
Pete Pfitzinger, an Olympic marathoner and exercise physiologist, has often emphasized the need for individualized training. He states, "A good training plan is one that fits your current fitness level, individual physiology, and ability to train without getting injured" .
Matt Fitzgerald, in his book "80/20 Running," emphasizes that training intensity distribution should be individualized according to the runner's background, age, gender, and personal preference .
All these factors point to the necessity of considering individual differences when deciding on running volume or any other aspect of a training plan.
Considerations in My Coaching Philosophy
When tailoring a training regimen, I take into account a wide range of factors, including job commitments, family life, lifestyle, sleep patterns, age, sex, injury history, strength training participation, and much more.
Take, for example, the case of an athlete I coached recently. He successfully completed Endure24 a 100-mile 24-hour race on just three runs per week. This is proof that it's not just about the number of runs, but also about the quality and specificity of the training sessions.
As a runner, it's crucial to recognize your individuality and find a training plan that respects it. It's about knowing your body and working with it rather than against it, to achieve your running goals in a sustainable, healthful manner.
- Bouchard, C., An, P., Rice, T., Skinner, J. S., Wilmore, J. H., Gagnon, J., ... & Rao, D. C. (1999). Familial aggregation of VO (2max) response to exercise training: results from the HERITAGE Family Study. Journal of Applied Physiology, 87(3), 1003-1008.
- Nielsen, R. O., Buist, I., Parner, E. T., Nohr, E. A., Sørensen, H., Lind, M., & Rasmussen, S. (2013). Predictors of Running-Related Injuries Among 930 Novice Runners: A 1-Year Prospective Follow-up Study. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 1(1).
- Epstein, D. (2014). The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Penguin Group.
- Pfitzinger, P., & Douglas, S. (2009). Advanced Marathoning. Human Kinetics.
- Fitzgerald, M. (2014). 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race
You don't need massive running mileage weeks!
In conclusion, it's essential to challenge the notion that massive mileage weeks are an absolute requirement for preparing for a 50 mile ultra marathon. While mileage certainly plays a role in training, it's crucial to consider individual factors such as lifestyle and other commitments. Pushing yourself to unsustainable limits may lead to diminishing returns and potential burnout. Instead, focus on a well-rounded approach that incorporates proper rest, cross-training, strength work, and smart training plans tailored to your specific needs. By understanding that running smarter, not just harder, is the key to success, you can strike a balance between training intensity and recovery. Remember, it's not just about accumulating miles but optimising your training and maintaining a healthy, sustainable approach. So lace up, train wisely, and embark on your 50 mile ultra marathon journey with confidence, knowing that you can achieve greatness without sacrificing your overall well-being.
Now go run hard! And remember, if you ever want to talk about the potential you can reach by taking on the services of a running coach then do get in touch by hitting that enquiry button