Ask Ann: From 10k to Your First Ultra

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Dear Ann,

I recently signed up for a local 10k race. It will be my first ever. Now I’m thinking about doing either a 50-mile, 100k or a 100-mile ultra. Most folks would probably do a half marathon first, then a full marathon and so on until they finally hit their first ultra. But with money being tight, I can only afford one or two races per year. So after this 10k event I signed up for, I’m thinking of training for one whole year to do my first ultra. My question is, is that a possible goal or should I train longer? Thank you so much in advance.

—Martin G.


Dear Martin,

That’s a big jump from 10k to a 50-miler. It brings back memories of when I made my big jump to ultras. When I signed up for the American River 50, my longest race had been a couple of 20 milers I ran while in high school.

Don’t be deterred by a lack of race experience or only being able to afford a couple of races a year. I always thought the best part of being a runner was the training, not the racing. What really helped my running was training with friends. They gave me advice, showed me new trails and made me laugh with their stories as they dragged me along. When my friend Aaron invited me for a run on the first 30 miles of the Western States 100 course, it opened my eyes not just to the beauty of the trails, but to the value of long runs—spending time on my feet running by feel.

Decide on a specific long-term goal—the race you really want to do. I recommend you also make an appointment with your healthcare providers to make sure you don’t have any underlying issues that could affect your training.

So, Martin, yes, if you’re willing to do what it takes, then step by step, you too can become an ultrarunning BEAST.

B – Build a strong foundation. Start by strengthening your tendons, ligaments and muscles to handle the subsequent training. Easy runs, run/walking, biking, swimming, basic strength exercises and f lexibility exercises, gentle stretches or yoga can all help.

E – Endurance development. Gradually increase the time you train to build your engine—this will strengthen your heart, lungs and muscle vascularization to bring oxygen to your muscles. It will also develop your mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses in your cells that efficiently burn your fuel. The more time you spend at an easy to moderate effort the better. To avoid injuries I suggest you include cross-training: bicycling, swimming, elliptical training, rowing, pool running, etc.

A – Awareness. Train the muscles to fire and relax in the right order at the right times—basic form and neuromuscular awareness drills and balance exercises. Train on terrain similar to that of your goal race. Learn to feel when you are starting to get hungry or thirsty and when you should shift to a walk or run. Start to prepare for specific things you will encounter in the race. Walking uphills, relaxing on the downhills, eating and drinking during long runs, knowing when to take walking breaks, what shoes and clothes to wear, running with water bottles or a pack, handling blisters and chafing, handling rocky trails, gravel roads, pavement (whatever you will encounter in the race), etc. I always loved this part of training: getting out on terrain that gave me the feel of the race. Use a treadmill when you can’t get out—it’s a great way to practice hills and flats in a controlled environment.

S – Strength. Build the strength that will allow you to go faster and hold form longer. Hill work, core and additional strength exercises, speed work or fartlek and tempo runs.

T – Tenacity. Test your limits. Be willing to make mistakes. Look at bad days as learning experiences that will make you more tenacious when it really counts. Develop resilience for whenever the inevitable setbacks occur.

Good luck, you can do this!
—Ann

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About Author

Ann Trason is a 14-time women’s champion at the Western States 100, and set World Records at the 50-mile (5:40:18 in 1991), 100K (7:00:47, 1995), 12-Hour (91 miles 1312 yards, 1991) and 100-mile (13:47:42, 1991) distances. Ann was co- director of the Firetrails 50 in northern California for 10 years, and has taught science at the college level. Ann currently coaches middle school cross country and supports other's ultrarunning achievements by volunteering, pacing and crewing at ultramarathon races throughout the Western US.

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