Perks & Challenges of Training for an Ultra

So, I am 915 miles into the training cycle for my first ultra (In24 Philadelphia) which has included five runs between the marathon and 50k distance over the last seven weeks.  The preparation for a 50+ mile urban ultra has taught me a few things about the world of ultra marathon training. Here are just a few of the pluses and minuses I have taken away from the last few months:

The Perks:

Slower Paced Runs

I have been doing my longer runs 90-120 seconds slower than the typical long run pace I would do for a marathon training cycle. This has helped with muscle recovery. My legs have never felt the way they often do after I race a marathon because, despite the longer distances, I have not pounded my body like I would during a race.

While it has taken me some time to adjust to this newer “long run” pace, the idea of focusing on miles vs. pace has freed up my mind and has been quite relaxing. Furthermore, this “quantity vs. “quality” philosophy further simplifies the training.

Eating Real Food During Runs

This might sound sad, but one of the highlights of my long runs has been eating real food. My favorite “go to” food has become peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It has become a morale boost. Energy gels and hydrating alone are not enough during the extended time our bodies are out there running, so real food is a necessity.

My race will have a food table, and I will bring my own as well. I have learned that the body will tell me what it wants. If I look at a particular food and cringe, then I’ll stay away from that food. If I look and want it, I will take it.

Stopping to Adjust is Fine

Running further is a war of attrition, and sometimes there needs to be a lull to regroup and check in with the body (and mind). This might involve a bathroom pit stop or the re-application of sunscreen. It might involve consuming the “real food” mentioned above. These little “pauses” go a long way in making the post-run after-effects less daunting on the body.

Also, I have been running with a hydration pack which has room for my phone, so I have snapped the occasional photograph during my runs. It has been nice to stop and smell the roses during some runs.

The Challenges

Slower Paced Runs

Yes, I already listed this as a perk, but for a runner with a “5K pace” competitive spirit, it has taken EVERY ounce of mental effort to discipline myself to run slower. It has not always been easy. While I do miss a good 8 x 800m repeat workout on the track; there is not much purpose for that when running for distance vs. a PR time.

Training is More Time Consuming

I did the math, and I spent approximately 13.5 hours training during the longer mileage weeks (one of which maxed out at just under 102 miles).  That is nearly two hours per day. This has been a challenge especially with a full time job (and a couple of part time jobs).

Weight Loss

Some might say this is a perk, but at one point, I had lost over 21 pounds. I was getting dangerously close to my high school weight. So, I had to make nutrition adjustments along the way to gain a few pounds back. Then, I had to figure out how to maintain my weight.  I added protein shakes to my diet, as well as trail mixes of all sorts.


While the slower-paced long runs have been easier on my muscles, I have been more tired from the mileage. I am not sure if this has been from the miles alone or the fact that I have had to wake up earlier to fit the mileage into my weekly schedule of government employee, coach, New Balance employee and writer.

I have found that a ten minute nap, when possible, goes a long way. Also, yes, coffee, and more coffee.

The hay is in the barn. The race is less than two weeks away. I’m still not sure if this will be a “one time deal” or not, but one thing running has taught me:

Never Say “Never”


While the gray was a surprise, I’m labeling the “ultra beard” as a perk. I’m still figuring out how to trim it.