Thursday, May 26, 2016

How to Train for a 50k on One Run Per Week

Artwork: Alfonso Ong
Runner's World has long touted their plan for running a Marathon on just 3 training days per week. I recently completed a 50k mountain ultra trail race on just 1 run per week (read my race report). Here's how I did it.

The first thing to remember is that, despite Runner's World's cheery assessment of the situation, training to run (just about any distance) on fewer than 4 or 5 runs per week is rarely ideal. But if you're pressed for time, injury prone, and have years of regular training base-mileage behind you, putting all your eggs into one basket might be just what you need to stay in the game.

After having the best running year of my life in 2014, this is the boat I found myself in for 2015. Multiple injuries, sickness, and decreased motivation during the week took their toll. I tried to continue looking at training as a daily thing, and despite still logging close to 2,000 miles for the year, I wound up DNFing multiple races and completed none of the ultramarathons I entered.

Coming into 2016 I wanted to race, but still lacked the drive, and perhaps discipline, to engage in the daily training grind. The winter months passed, April wore on, and suddenly it was time for that greatest of Pa Trail Racing traditions: The Hyner View Trail Challenge. With fewer than 300 miles on my legs so far that year (compared to 750 in 2015) I ran the 25k (race report) 5 minutes faster, and felt better doing it.

How could this be, I wondered? With the Chief Wetona Challenge Half Marathon (race report), and World's End Ultramarathon 50k (race report), coming at me in consecutive weeks near the end of May, I decided to test a theory.

How to Train for a 50k on One Run Per Week

One: Long Run Is King
If you only run once per week, run (or race) long. My weekly long run during the first five months of the year was between 2.5 and 5 hours. Sometimes it was a solo training run, other times it was a mountain race.

Two: Specificity
If you run only once per week, run a surface and terrain similar to that of your goal race. During the the first 5 months of the year every one of my runs were on trail with a significant amount of climbing and descent.

Three: Low Impact Cross Training
During the first 5 months of the year I was often only running once per week, but on the other 6 days I was not idle. In this time I logged over 1,500 "miles" on an spinning bike at a low resistance / high cadence. Some of these sessions were as long as 100 miles. This allowed me to build leg strength and aerobic fitness with minimal risk of the injuries that plagued me during the previous year.

Four: Dial in your Diet
Very early in the year I found a diet that work's for me. In the past I've experimented with, veganism, high carb - low fat, gluten free, and any number of methods. Some work, some don't, some work for specific goals (weight loss), others work temporarily but are not sustainable for me long term. Find what work's for you and stick with it. For me right now this means: high protein & fat, low carb, low gluten. This has allowed me to become 'fat adapted,' lower my body fat, and avoid some medical issues I have. Because I eat very few carbs on a daily basis, when I consume a gel on race day I seem to get a stronger energy response.

Five: Have Faith In Your Experience
You're not a rookie anymore. You've been there before. Don't let the starting line of a 50k daunt you. You've covered the distance in the past. You know it will be painful, but you've spent years building the mental tools to deal with the pain and persevere.

Running just once per week may not be the ideal way to train, and may not yield your best result at the end of the day. But if you have a hard time staying healthy on a heavy training load, it just might be the trick to keep you racing.

See you at the finish!

The Fasted Workout
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