I’m defining success here as my ability to finish 30+ ultras over the past 6 years. Well, that and to do it without injuring myself along the way. And it’s A secret, not necessarily The secret as I’m sure there are plenty of other things I’m doing that have contributed to my relative longevity in this sport.
Here’s my favorite chart, which shows my secret over time: the long run.
I operate under the belief that if I want to get better at something, then I need to do that thing. So if I want to get better at running long distances, then I need to run long distances. I know. It seems a little too obvious, right? I settled on 20 miles as a “long run” pretty much right when I started training for my first marathon. It’s a nice round number and just past “the wall”. I honestly don’t think it matters much whether you pick 15, 20, or some higher number to define long. I do think it’s important to get in as many as you can each year. Without getting injured, of course.
The first couple years, I packed a lot of long runs in each month with back-to-backs (20+20 or 25+20). I would then take a couple months off without doing any after my goal race to recover from them. More recently, I’ve pretty much eliminated the back-to-backs and just knock out one or two long runs a month with limited months off. Heck, I’ve gone 12 straight months with at least one run of 20 miles or more and 2020 will probably be the first calendar year where I’ll have done one in each month. While I acknowledge the benefits of 2 long runs in a weekend, I’m now of the opinion that it’s better to space them out. At least for myself.
The other thing I’ve done in recent years is cut back the length of my long runs. I used to do 25-31 miles in training fairly regularly and any more I rarely do more than my minimum definition of 20 miles. This is what I’ve done the past 2 weekends as “training” for Stone Mill 50 in a couple weeks. I feel it was important for me to do the longer long runs for the first couple years of my ultra career, but I race enough now (typically 6 ultras per year) that I don’t feel like I need to do the extra hour or two.
Maybe my “secret” (OK, fine – lots of other people know about this already) can help with your running. If not, I hope you’re able to find your own.