A Minimal Commitment

The past two months, my training partner and running coach Rob DeCou has written about minimalist training for the “Are You Tough Enough?” ultramarathon. Yeah, that means I am the poor schmuck that got talked into running a 65-mile foot race through the mountains behind Santa Barbara. No, I’m not exactly sure what I have gotten myself into. And yes, I do know that we are crazy.

A Minimal Commitment

While I am not exactly new to distance running, I am new to ultramarathons and the minimalist training approach. So far, in the first few months of preparation for the race, I’ve run less miles per week than when I was training for a recent 10K but my legs feel stronger and I am more confident in my ability to cover the distance. Why? As a novice ultrarunner trying this new approach, I’ve come up with a few observations.

Don’t Let It Become Your Whole Life (Just 99%)
I’ve really enjoyed Coach Rob’s prescribed minimalist schedule. Running only three days a week puts time between workouts and keeps me from feeling burned out. It’s also much easier to squeeze into a busy lifestyle, lifting the pressure of finding time each and every day to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement. As Rob mentioned in last month’s article, one day a week we do intervals. We jog to warm-up, run several predetermined distances at race pace with walk breaks in between, and cool down with another jog. We’re not breaking records, but we are training our muscles to be comfortable with our planned race pace. The second day we do a hill workout. We attack a 200 yard hill with 5 repeats. Beginning at about a fifty-percent pace, we change gears as we go until we’re finishing at a 95% push. The third and final run of the week is either a long distance jaunt or a shorter run at race pace. Completing our training schedule in 3 days each week leaves time for recovery and cross-training. It also helps keep my mind and body sharp for the next workout.

Consistency Is KEY
As with most challenges in life, being consistent is the key to success. It’s critical to put in the practice to accomplish any goal, especially something with the “Are You Tough Enough?” moniker. Fortunately, the above mentioned minimalist program makes my consistency, well, more consistent.training run

It Gets Easier (I Hope…)
Of course, there are also worries about not putting in enough miles to be ready for an ultramarathon (at least that’s what I worry about), but Coach Rob has assured me that I’ll be fine. In January, still a full two months before race day, Coach Rob took us out on a marathon jog around town. The goal was to finish, with no time limit in mind. It was a leisurely day. We explored neighborhoods, stopped at the park for water, made a restroom break, and eventually finished back where we started. I felt accomplished; it was the first time I had run 26.2 miles for a training run.
The next day, however, I hobbled embarrassingly around the office on legs too sore and stiff to walk straight. A few weeks later ,I embarked on a longer training run of 31 miles round-trip that included a single pass of the Santa Barbara Nine Trails race course. It was a brutal day, but I finished in good spirits and felt amazing the next day! I had run longer and harder without being sore so something must be working! My hope is that it continues to get easier even as the miles expand up to the 65-mile monster that I need to conquer.

Have Fun!
A fellow endurance athlete once said, “If you aren’t having fun, you’re not doing it right.” Period. I’m not saying that every straining step at mile 30 has been fun, but the mental and physical accomplishment has been every bit worth it. Maybe it’s the new approach, my training partner (and coach), or just the idea of the race. Whatever it is, I’m having fun.

A Healthy Dose Of Ignorance Can Go A Long Way
My first marathon was one of my fastest. I had no idea what to expect. When I crossed the start line I just ran. When I got tired, I just ran. When I wanted to stop, I just ran. When I had to go to the bathroom, I stopped. (Let’s be after 31-mile runserious, I’m not an elite racer, I’m not going to go to the bathroom in my shorts just to shave 30 seconds off my time, thank you very much.) After that first marathon, I knew what to expect in my next 26.2 mile race and the the mental games were afoot. I’ve run distance before, but not 65 miles. I have run the “Are You Tough Enough?” course before, but only in sections. I think a healthy dose of ignorance to the race and the challenges that we’ll face will me help come race day. Besides, I’m not trying to win a gold medal or out-sprint Usain Bolt, I’m trying to lug my body, step by step, over mountainous terrain. My goal is to finish standing up.

So what is my novice synopsis on minimalist training? It’s amazing! I feel fresh each time I begin a workout and I have plenty of time to recoup between sessions. I’m increasing my mileage and speed while drastically decreasing my fatigue and post workout soreness, a combination that improves my mental strength each week. The real test will come race day, not at the start line, not at the top of Gibraltar (mile 13), not even at the foot of Refugio Road (mile 55), but at the entrance to Nojoqui State Park (mile 65). The real test will be to see if I can make it under my own power from the finish line to the beer cooler. Once I’ve done that, you can ask me how the minimalist training worked out, just wait until I have the bottle open.

Photos from  Chris Clemens 

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