“How do you train for something like that?” is a question commonly uttered after one first hears about our Ultra exploits. The answer quickly moves to us runners talking about our weekly mileage and the number of days we run. Those who have truly be “out there” though, know where the true training for these events comes into the fold. It’s often said that 90% of running an ultra is mental. “Any idiot can run…” it’s true. Anyone can turn the legs over, left-right-repeat, as that quote completes itself, “… but it takes a special kind of idiot to run 100 miles.” What does it take to be one of those special kinds of idiot? The completion of proper mental training. What is proper mental training? I’d like to think that it’s hurling yourself into the throws of the same “daunting terrible” lows one might experience during an ultra.
Are you the kind of runner who…
Waits for the rain to stop before you go out on your run?
Waits for the snow to stop before you go out on your run?
Waits for the wind to die down before you go out on your run?
Waits for the sun to go down and the temps to cool before you go out on your run.. or run before the sun comes up?
If you’re one of the above runners.. you’re not doing the right kind of mental training. Remember that, anything can happen during an ultra. The list of variables in a race is long. I have vivid memories of races I’ve run in that have showcased a cold morning with a temp of 39 degrees, a steamy afternoon with temps reaching 100, humid, torrential thunderstorms and hail, followed by a foggy damp chilly night in the 40s. How do you prepare… mentally.. for all of that? YOU RUN IN IT.
Are you the kind of runner who..
Avoids running on rocky trails for fear of twisting an ankle?
Only trains by running on roads and paved bike paths?
Doesn’t do any training runs in the middle of the night, and prefers to run right before or after dinner?
Avoids steep hills, mountains or other such formidable obstacles?
If you’re one of the above runners.. you’re not doing the right kind of mental training. How are you going to handle running through the night in a long ultra, when you haven’t run through the night in your training? What about when that ultra switches from a run on double track fire roads, to paved road, to daunting mountain climbs covering rocky terrain? (Think anything in Leadville…)
A friend of mine, Hans Bauer, was training to run a marathon barefoot. He ran to and from work in a pair of special made shoes. What was so special about them? He poured a light layer of concrete on top of the insoles of the shoe. So even while wearing shoes, he was barefoot on concrete. I think back to my training for my first 100-miler. I knew of the two waist deep stream crossings during every 10-mile loop. So, before every run for the two weeks of hell a month out from the race, I ran in absolutely saturated socks and shoes. You can fail to plan or plan to fail.
So much of what we do as trail and ultra runners is mental. We need to continue to train ourselves, not to take on the miles but, to handle whatever variables are thrown at us. So get out there and trudge up and down the ridiculously steep, rock strewn, mountainsides, while enduring 100 degree temps, torrential rains, thunder and lightning, snow, ice, wind, fire.. Whatever. Get out there and push yourself through it.. the more you train within the inevitable, the more likely success is to come. Get comfy outside your comfort zone.. you’ll thank yourself later.
~Sherpa John runs in anything and everything. He’s endured Severe Thunder and Hail Storms, and tornado’s that have almost caused the closing of a 100 mile course. 50 Miles in snowshoes, wind rain and snow. Waist deep stream crossings for 2 days. Whatever.. all in a days work.