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I am training for my first ultra marathon distance run.  The Rim to Rim to Rim, from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other and then back again.   Depending on which route we take between 42-46 miles and over 11,000 feet of elevation gain.

The furthest I have ran to date is the Leadville marathon back in 2010, my first marathon.   Since then, I’ve had 2 kids and my longest run in four years was 9 miles last weekend, so let’s just say I have a ways to go.

I’ve been thinking about training strategy for the run, and I am not taking how much mileage I should be adding to my long runs.  I am talking about the other things one needs to take into consideration when planning a 12+ hour self-supported run.

So here are six that I came up with, I am sure there are many more I will learn along the way!

No aid stations on this course, we are on our own…..

Run with a pack:

So I did train wearing a small pack for the Leadville marathon.  I wanted to be able to carry things like gloves, a windbreaker, toilet paper and athletic tape.   However, for the R2R2R I’m going to be carrying all my nutrition and water in addition.  I need to invest in a pack that has a waist strap to help distribute the weight better and do some long runs hauling it with significant weight so my body (and shoulders especially) can learn to adapt.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine,  I burn an astounding 797 calories per hour trail running at a moderate pace (based on my height and weight).   If my goal is to finish in around 12 hours than I am going to burn almost 10,000 calories!    I obviously won’t be able to replace everything I burn but still need to plan on packing in a adequate amount of fuel; this pack isn’t going to be light!

Push through when I am tired:

I’ve had a little experience with this one since having 2 children who kept me up half then night well into their 1st year of life.  Thyriod disease has also thrown me a curve ball in this department.  I remember before I was diagnosed having moments where I felt as though I could just lay down next to the trail and take a nap.
Now that I am on meds and a diet to help support my thyriod things are much better but sometimes I am still overcome with that debilitating fatigue.  It is during these times when I have to ask myself, “Am I really tired or is it just my thyriod making me feel tired?”
Back when I was a personal trainer and health coach, I remember asking my clients the same thing:  “Are you really tired? Physically tired? Or just mentally fatigued from working all day?”
Regardless of the answer, doing something active, 99.9% of the time, will make you feel LESS tired.  I know it sounds counterintuative, but it is true.

I love these squeezie pouches but they are only 70 calories each. I need to find an option that is lighter and smaller with more calories. I guess I have to leave the toys at home too.

Run on a full stomach:

I also practiced this during my training for the Leadville marathon. Fortunately, my body seems to do quite well with running and eating at the same time.  The downside:  I prefer whole foods.  For Leadville this was easy, there was every option available at each aid station.  During the R2R2R I will be carrying all my nutrition, which means I can hardly fit several bananas, granola bars, pumpkin seeds, squeezie pouches and my other favorite snacks.  The weight alone would kill me!  So I need to spend some time testing out different nutrition gu’s, gels and bars to see what works for me.  Since I am gluten free, my options are somewhat limited so stay tuned on this front.

Train for fast hiking:

The only other tough event I’ve done is the Imogene pass run back in 2011 (5 months after my first son was born).  This is a 17.1 mile trail race over the 13,114 Imogene pass.  You gain over 5000 feet in the first 10 miles, it’s pretty brutal.

The run started on an old mining road and after about a mile started a steep and rocky climb through some thick forest.  I was jogging along, very slowly up the incline and was surprised when people started passing me, while walking!   I had never before implemented fast hiking into my training:  if I was on a trail, I was running it!

Back then I didn’t realize how completely in-efficient it is to try to run up a steep incline where fast hiking would serve much better in conserving energy.  After another 10 or 15 people passed by, I tried to fast hike myself but my lack of training in this area was apparent, I was more out of breath and even more people were passing by.
I learned my lesson and am implementing a ton of work on fast hiking this time around.  I have been doing some intervals on the stairstepper and now anytime I reach an incline over 20% on the trail I am fast hiking it!

Interestingly enough, a study was recently published by my alma mater regarding this very topic.  It found the exact grade that fast hiking vs running is more effective.  I could have used this back in 2011!  Read it HERE. 

You could always buy a "Loop N'' Poop". Seriously, this is a real product.
You could always buy a “Loop N’ Poop”.  Seriously, this is a real product.

Don’t be shy!

It’s happened to the best of us.  Your stomach starts to cramp and you know its coming.  But you are in a field with hundreds of other runners with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.  Now is not the time for modesty, or so I’ve heard.  If you were a pro running in the Olympic trials for instance you would just let it go while you were running, not giving it a second thought.  But most of us would prefer to stop to take care of business so I am assuming while running an ultra in open terrain it is common place to just go right there off the trail in plain sight.  I am sure there will be more to report on this later.



Being on your feet as much as possible:

Scott pulling double duty. Now THIS is training!

This is more of a training strategy I plan on implementing.  I figure I’m not going to be doing many 12 hour training runs so the second best thing is getting used to being on my feet all day.   I don’t have a standing desk but I am working on some ideas on how to make my own in our home office.  The other day I saw a man at the grocery store with his son in a baby backpack.  Scott and I used to wear our youngest, West around the house when doing chores and cleaning, maybe we need to bring that back into play.

And that’s about it for right now.  As I figure out this training thing I will continue to post updates.

a.k.a Ultra Mama


Scott is the founder of Becoming Ultra and spends most of his time with his family and ideas to get people moving!