How?  How does someone go from being able to run 13 miles or so to 100?  It’s such a huge, monstrous, insane jump that it’s tough to even wrap your mind around.  When I got the idea that I wanted to run one, I started surfing the internet looking for 100 mile training plans.  I wasn’t very successful.  You can find dozens of marathon training plans in about 0.23 seconds, but hours of searching will only yield a couple approaches to running 100 miles.  I don’t know if what I’ve outlined below is a good plan.  I don’t know if it’s a bad one either, but it’s what I used to complete my first 100 mile race.  Maybe it’ll work for you.

The world wasn’t created in a day and getting to 100 miles won’t take only a training cycle.  Here are the 6 steps to going from a half marathon to 100 miles:

Training Cycle 1: The Marathon

There are a bazillion different marathon training plans out there (or 2.8 million according to Google).  Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, and Hanson plans are among the most popular.  I used a version of Higdon’s to train for my first marathon.  Most plans are 16-20 weeks in length and build mileage steadily over this period.

This first training cycle is about redefining what constitutes a long run.  Up until now, anything over 8 miles is considered long and the maximum is 10-12 miles or 2 to 2 and a half hours.  Now those are your medium runs with long now in the 20-25 mile range.  You’ll now be spending 4 plus hours several times a month training towards the end of the training cycle.  The more 20+ mile runs you can get in within reason, the better.  Depending on your prior running history, 3-6 would be an appropriate range.

After your 20 week training cycle, take 6 weeks off with minimal running and nothing even remotely close to long.  You deserved it.

Training Cycle 2: The Faster Marathon

This training cycle will look a lot like your first one with 2 exceptions.  First, you should increase the number of 20+ mile runs over the 20 week training cycle.  If you did 3 or 4 training for your first marathon, then plan for 5 or 6 during this cycle.  Your goal is to eventually run 100 miles, which if no one has mentioned it to you yet is a very long distance.  In order to get good (or even merely competent) at running long distances, then you need to run long distances.  The Wall is a very real thing that occurs after you’ve run 15-22 miles.  You need as much practice as possible going up, over, and around it as you can.

The second tweak to your training cycle is to add in back-to-back long runs.  So you would do another double digit run the day after a 20+ mile run.  Word of warning.  This is an advanced technique and will definitely increase the risk of injury.  You shouldn’t do this every week, but 3 or 4 times during cycle will help teach your body to run on tired legs.  There’s a fine line between tired legs and injured legs though and you should always error on the side of not hurting yourself.  I was a huge believer in the long back-to-back runs for several training cycles, however cut them out last fall as I think they were a contributor to me getting partially dinged up last spring.

After your 20 week training cycle, take 6 weeks off again with minimal running and nothing even remotely close to long.  You deserved it.

Training Cycle 3: The 50 Miler

Congratulations.  You now get to do your first ultra. . . as a training run.  About a month before your 50 mile race, find a 50K race with similar elevation profile.  You shouldn’t run this race all out.  This is a training run first and foremost.  You will look to get in a supported long run and practice race day nutrition and pacing strategies.  It can’t be stressed enough how important pacing and nutrition are in the longer ultras.  These are the primary determinants of whether you will finish the race.

After your 20 week training cycle, take 6 weeks off with minimal running and nothing even remotely close to long.  You deserved it.

Training Cycle 4: The Faster 50 Miler

You should be getting pretty good filling out training spreadsheets by this point.  The overall structure should remain the same, however after 3 training cycles you probably know what doesn’t work for you.  Don’t do that.  You may not know exactly what works best for you, but keep experimenting.  Each cycle provides you an opportunity to try something new or different.  Whether that’s hill repeats or track sessions, fasted runs, or running based on heart rate.  Or maybe it’s hiring a coach to help you with your running form.

After your 20 week training cycle leading up to your second 50 miler, take 6 weeks off with minimal running and nothing even remotely close to long.  You deserved it.

Training Cycle 5: 100K

The step from 50 mile to 100K is much more manageable than the one from marathon to 50 mile.  You may be tempted to go straight to 100 miles at this point, which is what I did.  The actual training cycle doesn’t change much from 50 mile to 100k to 100 mile.  The weekly mileage and long runs are basically the same.  You can run more/longer, however I don’t think it’s necessary.  More miles will always translate into better performance as long as you don’t injure yourself.  But it’s not necessary to double you mileage to go from 50 miles to 100 miles.

The real benefit of running a 100K before your first 100 miler is it gives you more experience running long.  You will get to spend a decent amount of time running in the dark, which you will have to do during your 100 unless you’re elite level talent (which if you are you’re probably not reading this blog).  You will also likely experience a wider variety of weather conditions at different paces than you would normally.  Your body will react to 30 or 40 degree temperatures differently after 60 miles than after 10 miles.

After your 20 week training cycle . . . stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Training Cycle 6: 100 Miles

Keep cranking the long runs.  Dial in the nutrition.  Add in a 50K and/or 50 mile training race during this training cycle.  By this point, a 25 mile or 5 hour run is a piece of cake.  That’s not to say it doesn’t require effort and focus to execute it.  It’s just that you don’t still lay awake for hours the night before dreading it.  While the goal is always to get to your race 100% healthy, that’s even more necessary as the race distance increases.  The prior 5 training cycles should have given you a really solid endurance base.  All you need to do is maintain everything you’ve built up.

After your successful race, take two days off to enjoy it then start scouring Ultrasignup for your next 100 mile run.

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