Training for 200s-You Can Do It!

Training for 200s-You Can Do It!

One of the draws of long distance races is you get to see a lot of amazing, remote terrain with the benefit of aid. I came to running ultras from a fast-packing background after thru-hiking the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail, PCT and a few others. As such, here are my top three training tips for uber long adventures. 

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They say “200 is the new 100”, but is training the same?

Candice Burt and Destination Trails have created some amazing 200 mile races. If you love the 100 mile distance and have heard of her Bigfoot or Tahoe 200s, chances are they’re on your list of races to run. Or maybe you backpack a lot and the idea of a multi-day adventure with aid sounds amazing (it does)? Thinking about training for such a distance can be overwhelming; most of us simply can’t take a summer off of work to be dedicated to full-time training. Luckily, plenty of people train for, run, and finish 200 mile races with full-time jobs, families, and other life responsibilities. Here are a few training tips for the 200-milers, including strategies for folks who have a full-time life outside of running:

1. Train General -> Specific

This goes for everyone, every distance, and every race. At Cascade Endurance, our main priorities besides ensuring our athletes stay safe and healthy are to 1) build a strong aerobic base and 2) train least specific to most specific. For the 200 mile distance, this means that earlier in the training season, your load doesn’t need to be huge. Ideally, the first 8-12 weeks of training should be dedicated to building your aerobic capacity, meaning that virtually all your runs will be easy. With individualized training, you can find exact heart rate zones for recovery, aerobic, threshold and maximum. Most runs during the building phase of training will be within the recovery and/or aerobic zones, which will give you many returns including less stress on the body; less recovery needed between runs; more efficiency with fat burning (meaning greater reliance on endogenous fat stores instead of exogenous carb calories); increased mitochondria and capillary density; and with time, a lower RPE (rate of perceived exertion) and heart rate at any given pace. Building a strong aerobic base is your number one goal. After this initial base training phase, you would ideally incorporate some speed work (least specific for long distances) and spend short bursts of time in your maximum heart rate zone. Just as it sounds, it doesn’t take a lot of time spent in the higher end zones to strengthen them, so extra time for training isn’t necessary at this step. Over the next weeks and months, your speed work should gradually transition from shorter, harder efforts to longer, steady state efforts. This, approximately 6-8 weeks out from your race, is about the time you would transition to the most “specific” training for your race of choice, in this case being the epic 200 miler(s), and is the time you would set aside some extra time for running.

 Speed work still has a place-the faster your top speed, the easier race pace will be. 

Speed work still has a place-the faster your top speed, the easier race pace will be. 

2. You can carry a “normal” training load until your race draws near

As mentioned above, it isn’t until about 6-8 weeks from race weekend that you would ideally dedicate some extra time to training. After you’ve worked up to some long, all day efforts, incorporating back-to-back long runs is key. Additionally, picking a few 50-100 mile distances to incorporate into your schedule throughout the training season is a great way to boost your confidence and get your body accustomed to the discomforts of running for hours and days on end. During your peak weeks just prior to tapering, It is important to simulate scenarios similar to what you might experience in a 200 miler- fatigue, sleep deprivation, lots of time on your feet, intense elevation change, and so on. This is when you might take a few extra days off of work to add a more strenuous load to your training. Multiple back-to-back days of intensity, two-a-days, and overnight runs are all great ways to train mentally and physically for the challenges to come. Besides the actual running component of race specificity, use your long runs and training races to dial in gear, food and hydration. This includes clothing, backpack, rain gear, trekking poles, food, water, electrolytes, and anything else that may be required for your specific race. If you have a coach, he or she will be able to help you simulate race conditions in the weeks leading up to your race to prepare for altitude, grade or steepness of hills, heat or lack thereof, sand, technical terrain, and other conditions you might encounter.

 Give yourself time to do specific training for the course, but stick with consistent, simple training for success. Photo by Howie Stern

Give yourself time to do specific training for the course, but stick with consistent, simple training for success. Photo by Howie Stern

3. Get creative with “time on your feet”

For these ultra long-distance races where you will probably be walking a large portion of it, one of the most crucial components of training will be to just get your body used to standing and moving around A LOT. For those of us who work Monday-Friday and have families and kids to come home to, you might need to get creative in this department. Think: getting up early before work for a morning jog, standing at your desk at work whenever possible, going for a walk during lunch break, and heading out for another quick jog after work. On the weekends, maybe you go for your long run on Saturday morning, make lunch for the kids then take them to the park, do some cleaning around the house, help make dinner, and when you finally put the kids to bed at night, you realize you’ve spent the whole day walking around since your run. Get up early on Sunday morning for another run, and repeat. Some folks have the availability to spend their weekends running, which is fantastic but if you don’t, it’s okay to find other ways to get time on your feet. You will need to commit to stringing together some big days, but you might have more "training" time than you think if you factor in other activities. It all counts, just make sure to recover as hard as you train, too! 

As with all long-distance races, the most important thing is to have fun! As they say, “you run the first half of a hundred miler with your legs and the second half with your mind.” Does that mean the last ¾ of your 200 miler are with your mind?! Train yourself to think positively, choose to find the good in worst case scenarios, and turn moments (or hours or days?!) that don’t seem fun at all, into an opportunity for smiles and laughter, knowing that you will think back on these days with the fondest of memories for the rest of your life. After all, you signed yourself up for this endeavor. Remember that every single person out there on the course is suffering in some way, so don’t complain! Lift someone else’ spirits and yours will be lifted: good luck!

 Photo by Howie Stern.

Photo by Howie Stern.