2014 IAU 100k World Championships Training Interviews With Ellie Greenwood, Amy Sproston, Jo Zakrzewski, Larisa Dannis, And Emily Harrison

Many of the world’s best ultramarathon road runners will begin the first of 20 laps on a 5k-loop course on the evening of November 21st at the IAU 100k World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Although the race will not be run under the heat of the sun, seasonal highs in the mid-80s coupled with high humidity levels will likely yield less-than-ideal racing conditions. The victors in this year’s 100k world championship, which has not been held since the 2012 edition in Italy, must be well prepared for the mental, monotonous challenge of running 20 loops consecutively and the physical challenge of persevering through warm, muggy weather.

The competition on the women’s side is talent-filled and accolade-laden. The entrant’s list includes previous 100k world champions, elite road marathoners, Comrades Marathon gold medalists, along with national champions and national record-holders from various countries at several distances. We sat down with some of these profoundly accomplished athletes to discuss their training and preparation ahead of the world 100k. Did they heat train? Did they run high weekly mileage or super-fast interval workouts? Did they train exclusively on roads or build their years around this event?

In the following interviews, we hear from Ellie Greenwood, the 2014 Comrades Marathon champion hailing from the U.K.; reigning IAU 100k world champion, American Amy Sproston; the U.K.’s Jo Zakrzewski, the 2011 world 100k runner-up and recent runner-up at the 2014 IAU 50k World Trophy Final; the 2014 U.S. 50-mile national champion, Larisa Dannis; and the recent IAU 50k World Trophy Final champion who holds the second-fastest 50k time run by a North American, American Emily Harrison.

Be sure to check out our in-depth preview of the entire women’s field.

Ellie Greenwood

iRunFar: How do you think your experience at the Comrades Marathon—which you won back in June—will help you at the 100k world championships? Was your training ahead of Comrades similar to your training ahead of the world 100k?

Ellie Greenwood: For sure my experience at Comrades will help but the two races are in reality really quite different. [Author’s Note: Greenwood charged to a come-from-behind win at the 2014 Comrades Marathon in a time of 6:18:15.] Comrades is point to point over hilly terrain in an event with 16,000 participants and the world 100k is 20 times 5k loops, pancake flat, and I am guessing around 150 participants. But both are of similar-enough distance and on road so they have those similarities, and in both I have competed on a team so there is that common element to them. My training has been quite different as for Comrades I didn’t do much flat running and instead focused on hilly roads and some hard downhill efforts (to mimic the Comrades course). For world 100k, I have been running much more flat terrain.

iRunFar: Tell me about your year leading up the 100k world championships. Have you run many races or had longer training blocks? How long has this race been a central focus in your training?

Greenwood: I ran Comrades at the start of June and then for the summer I switched to Skyrunning and trained for and raced at [the] Speedgoat 50k and The Rut 50k. [Author’s Note: Greenwood finished third on a tough Speedgoat course in 6:53:04 and fourth at the similarly rugged The Rut 50k in 6:57:33.] The summer focus on technical trails and elevation was a welcome break for both my head and my body from pounding the roads. The Rut was on September 13th and since then I have not raced but after a short break I slowly started to transition back to roads. In terms of hours per week, my training has likely not changed much since the summer but my mileage has gone up as I’ve hit more roads and flat trails in the last two months.

iRunFar: Did you run any races specifically for training purposes in preparation for the world 100k?

Greenwood: No. I felt that I was better to focus on uninterrupted training and I have plenty of past experience of road marathons and ultras to draw on.

iRunFar: Talk about your training in the second half of this year. What sort of workouts did you run to prepare for the world 100k?

Greenwood: My training for the world 100k was a transition from running five days a week on trail and one day a week on roads over the summer, to now I am running five days a week on roads and one day a week on trails. I have built up weekly Saturday long runs followed by a medium-long run on Sunday. In the weekdays, I have tried to do one tempo run and one session of longer intervals (four miles-one mile-one mile or 2 x 5k, for example).

Ellie Greenwood - post-run

Ellie Greenwood and friends, Nic and Ryan, after a training run. Photo: Mike Palichuk

iRunFar: What about the last month or two before this race—did you run any key workouts to sharpen your speed and endurance?

Greenwood: Not especially.

iRunFar: What was your peak mileage in a week’s time in preparation for this race?

Greenwood: I hit one 200k week, a couple of 190k weeks, and then a few 160k weeks. I only did this as I felt my body was responding well to this kind of volume and that I was still maintaining or even improving my average-run pace whilst increasing the weekly mileage.

iRunFar: What are your goals on race day? How would your ideal race play out in terms of splits, finishing time, place?

Greenwood: Heat and humidity will likely be big factors so, due to this and the fact that it is a world championship, I am more focused on positioning rather than a set time goal, as realistically I do not think the race is set up for fast times. I do not expect to go out in the lead but I would hope to run the first half of the race in a pack with some other ladies and then make a judgment call after that as to whether I can make a move. It is very hard to tell how things will pan out, as I’ve not raced in such heat and humidity before.

Amy Sproston

iRunFar: What is your mindset in returning as the defending champ, given that it’s been more than two-and-a-half years since the last 100k world championship?

Amy Sproston: I think even if it had been run last year, coming back as the defending champ, I don’t think I would been considered the favorite regardless. I had a great day two years ago and I think I was one of 10 or 15 people who could have been in that top spot. So I don’t necessarily feel any sort of expectations as the defending champ because I think people would be more surprised than anything if I won again. In a race like this, you can’t screw up at all, there is really no time; there is no time to have an issue. So it’s whomever it comes together for on that day. It’s hard to pick; the [U.S.] women’s team is super strong.

iRunFar: Tell me about your year leading up the 100k world championships. Did you run many races? Have extensive training blocks? How long has this race been a central focus in your training?

Sproston: I’ve done some races, mainly international, this year. I started the year with El Cruce, which is a stage race in Chile; that was in February. [Author’s Note: Sproston finished second behind Emma Roca in a time of 8:11:59.] In April, I went back down for the Patagonia Run 100k in Argentina. I had a great day there and won that and felt good. [Author’s Note: Sproston was also seventh overall with a finishing time of 12 hours and 55 minutes.] And then I was getting ready for Comrades. At Comrades I was having a decent day and then tore my—I ended up with a pretty big tear in my hamstring and walked in the last 14 miles, and basically didn’t run much in June and July and was doing physical therapy to rehab that. So I really started running again in August.

I ran Hood to Coast with my women’s team. Then I ran a race in Japan called the Hasetsune Cup and based on my fitness I did as well as I could have expected. [Author’s Note: Her 9:31:08 finish time earned Sproston a first-place finish at this challenging 44-mile ultra.] I haven’t put the training in that I wanted to [for worlds] in terms of overall mileage but I’ve done some faster things and the couple races I’ve done have gone well. This has been a focus race in that it’s been a goal to get back running to be ready to do [worlds].

iRunFar: Did you run any races specifically for training purposes in preparation for the world 100k?

Sproston: Hasetsune was basically the exact opposite of [worlds,] but it was a good experience and since I was coming off of injury I didn’t think it made sense to run a fast marathon or anything like that.

iRunFar: How was training for the 2012 race different from training ahead of this race—I take it the training might have been different since you were injured over the summer ahead of this race.

Sproston: Well, I was in the hospital five weeks before worlds in 2012 so I didn’t really have a perfect training schedule—I was probably in better shape, I had done really well at Ray Miller early in the year, so I was probably fitter before that injury happened. But the training that year wasn’t perfect either. I really just started incorporating speedwork in the last two years so I probably wasn’t doing much speedwork then either. My speedwork was maybe a faster group trail run or during one of my lunch runs doing something a little faster, but I’m not much of a planner and I wasn’t keeping track of my mileage. In the last two years, though, I have been doing more specific speed workouts but before I won worlds last time I hadn’t gotten there yet.

iRunFar: What about the last month or two before this race—did you run any key workouts to sharpen your speed and endurance?

Sproston: I’m not much of a planner in terms of workouts and structure but this past week I did a tempo run of five miles at 6:30 per mile pace, nothing crazy long or fast, just trying to… you know, I have done some fartlek workouts of a minute hard, minute easy times 15 or 20 to try to just get some turnover going again. But I typically don’t run my slow runs that slow. When I go for a run I’m typically doing 7:30 per mile pace, which is pretty close to race pace [for 100k]. I’m really just trying to build up some endurance at this point and not doing so many speed workouts.

Amy Sproston - lake

Post-run relief for Amy Sproston. Photo courtesy of Amy Sproston.

iRunFar: What was your peak mileage in a week’s time in preparation for this race?

Sproston: Yeah, to be honest, again my mileage as been pretty low. I got one week into the 50s before Hasetsune and this week I got to about 75 miles. But I’ve really been building up slowly; my weekly mileage hasn’t been what I would want it to be. But then again I’m going in rested and I’m not injured. I’m hoping that the people that have been racing all year are maybe a little more tired; I’m definitely not tired. I typically don’t try to hit much more than maybe 90 miles a week, though, or else I feel worn down. I think people tend to overdo it and then you don’t get as much longevity.

iRunFar: What are your goals on race day? How would your ideal race play out in terms of splits, finishing time, and so forth?

Sproston: Yeah, I think our goal is always to win the team gold. Last time at worlds, a lot of us were focused on that, not so much individual performances, but more focusing on how to get the team there. I hope some of us will be running together, similar paces, working together. So, I guess number one is always the team and I don’t know that I’ll be a scorer but if I’m not a scorer, I hope I’m as close as I can and pushing the scorers. Hopefully I can be in the top 10 or top five, but it always comes down to the day. Again, I’m not as fit as I’d like to be but hopefully I can have a good performance and score for the team. In terms of splits, I guess I’d like to do something similar to last time: the marathon was about 3:05 and the 50-mile split was six hours so people faded but some people came back. So, go out at a similar pace and see how it holds. I’ll be shooting for a similar time to last time although I know the course is tough with some tight turns and the temperature and humidity, so it could be a relatively slow course compared to last time [in Italy].

Jo Zakrzewski

iRunFar: Did your recent second-place finish at the IAU 50k give you extra confidence ahead of the world 100k? What did you learn from that race that might help you when you return to Doha?

Jo Zakrzewski: I was really happy and surprised with my result at the 50k in Doha. [Author’s Note: Zakrzewski’s 3:33:23 was less than a minute behind winner Emily Harrison.] I had gone into the race with no specific goals or expectations. I had agreed to run the race before being selected for the 100k, and as I’d already booked my flights out there, it seemed like a good idea to get some experience of the travel, the accommodations, the food, the course, and the conditions and then be able to report back to the rest of Team Great Britain (GB) and Team Ireland. If I’d been at home, I would’ve done a long run that day, so the aim was to have a good hard long run, but stay within myself and not leave the 100k out there.

How the race panned out gave me a lot of confidence that you can perform well without the need for lots of specific heat/humidity training, and to just have confidence in your own body, your training, and your pacing. It was interesting to get a feel for the course, as it is rather hard underfoot, and there are three 180-degree turns in each 5k loop, so I would say that (based on my very limited experience) it is not an especially fast course.

iRunFar: Tell me about your year leading up the 100k world championships. Did you run many races? Have extensive training blocks? How long has this race been a central focus in your training?

Jo Zakrzewski - injured

Jo Zakrzewski smiles despite her Seville Marathon injuries. Photo courtesy of Jo Zakrzewski.

Zakrzewski: I have had rather an interesting year from a running point of view. I had achieved the qualifying standard to represent Scotland in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games this summer in the autumn of last year, but I had the slowest time of four girls; hence I was not going to make the team. I trained for an early-spring marathon to try to improve my time, but disaster struck. I was knocked down within the first 10 seconds of the Seville Marathon and then was trampled as I tried to get up. Somehow, I managed to get back to my feet and finish the race, but was taken straight to hospital from the finish, as I’d not just sustained grazes to knees and elbows, but had broken my nose and cracked a rib. This put me out of running for a while, and as predicted, I wasn’t selected for the Games, but was picked for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships at the Pikes Peak Ascent.

At the last minute, that is, with about five weeks to go, one of the other girls had to pull out of the marathon due to an injury and so suddenly there I was—on the team for a home Commonwealth Games. Obviously, I didn’t have the best build-up (and indeed had to go back to work straight from the Closing Ceremony) but it was an experience I’ll never forget. Pikes Peak was only three weeks later, so although there was nothing much left in the tank, I waited until after that to have a proper break to recover. While I was up at the Commonwealth Games, I heard [that I was selected for worlds] and so after a few weeks off, I started to train again in September.

iRunFar: Did you run any races specifically for training purposes in preparation for the world 100k?

Zakrzewski: I haven’t had a very long training period specifically for the world 100k and couldn’t afford any more time off work, so I have only done three races in the buildup. They have been road races of increasing distance: a half marathon, a marathon, and the 50k.

iRunFar: Talk about your training in the second half of this year. What sort of workouts did you run in preparation for this race?

Zakrzewski: I tend to keep my training quite similar, whether I’m aiming for a marathon or a longer event. I do one speed session mid-week and a long run at the weekend. I sometimes manage an extra weekly session on a Saturday, depending on the length of my long run on the Sunday. I would say that my ‘speed sessions’ have been slightly more endurance based in the second half of the year than the first half.

A couple of sessions I have done are 800-meter repetitions on a 4:30- to 5:00-minute turnaround, and 200-meter floats (12 continuous laps with 200 meters effort, 200 meters recovery but the whole session is timed including recoveries), and sometimes mile repeats on a weekend aiming for sub-6:00 pace with an approximately 60-second recovery. (Sorry, those are off the top of my head so I hope they sound about right!)

iRunFar: What about the last month of two before this race—did you run any key workouts to sharpen your speed and endurance?

Zakrzewski: The “last month or two” probably covers most of my 100k training, though the marathon training earlier in the year will all have helped, so what I mentioned before covers the last month or two.

iRunFar: What was your peak mileage in a week’s time in preparation for this race? How many miles did you run on average in training?

Zakrzewski: Due to time commitments, that is, fitting in [running] around work, and getting enough recovery, I would say that when training, my weekly mileage is about 70-plus miles, peaking in the 90s, and if just ticking over (not really training), it’s more like 30 to 40. If I try to squeeze more mileage in, something has to give… and I don’t want to lose any quality in my runs, develop more injuries, or lose my focus on my patients at work.

iRunFar: What are your goals on race day? How would your ideal race play out in terms of splits, finishing time, and so forth?

Zakrzewski: My goal with the 50k was to have a good, solid run (which I did) and my sub-goal was to work out who Emily was beforehand, as I knew that she was a scarily fast runner, and if I wasn’t careful and went out with her by accident, then I’d probably blow up completely. Luckily, everyone went out relatively gently at the 50k so we ran as a group for the first few laps.

Thinking about the 100k right now (though I’m sure this will change as race day approaches and nerves kick in), I’m actually seeing it as a chance to catch up with running friends old and new, rather than a race. I have only ever run one 100k before this, and I followed the advice I was given prior to that race, which was to spend the first 40 to 50k at a comfortable speed where you can chat, and so I am still friends with people I met and chatted to on that day. So here’s to meeting many more amazing people on November 21st.

However, I cannot deny that backing up the other amazing Team GB ladies to earn team medals would be the icing on the cake!

Larisa Dannis

iRunFar: You had a stellar performance in winning the Fall 50 Mile last month. What did you think of the course? Given the result, do you feel like you can perform exceptionally well in Doha? Do you have extra confidence for worlds now?

Larisa Dannis: Yeah, it was tremendously scenic; that course is well up there when it comes to scenery compared to trail races I’ve run. [Author’s Note: Dannis was victorious at the Fall 50 Mile in a course-record time of 5:59:11.] But, no, it didn’t change how I think I’ll do in Doha because I never focus on that! I’m inherently not a competitive person so it was a result that I wasn’t expecting. I was just thankful I was able to run such a strong race there and I’ll do the same thing in Doha: pace smart on heart rate and run on happiness and I’ll be content with whatever result I’m able to achieve. I don’t get nervous because I don’t go into races with any big expectations. I focus on being that the best that I can be on that given day and that has always been my focus.

iRunFar: You ran quite a few races this year, including the Boston Marathon, the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile, and the Western States 100. How was your training outside of those races? How long has this race been a central focus in your training?

Dannis: The 100k has only been on my radar since September, as I was offered a position on the team at the last minute. I have raced a lot but I pace and go out there and do what I always do, running by heart rate, and largely dictated by the distance. [Author’s Note: Dannis was the 33rd woman overall in 2:44:14 at the 2014 Boston Marathon; she qualified for Western States with her third-place finish at the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile in 7:15:39; Dannis then ran to second place at Western States in 18:29:18.] I know I can push harder at the 50k or marathon distance and not quite as hard as the distance gets longer. I mostly run on my own [in training] with how my work schedule is; it’s easy when I can go out spontaneously when I have a free moment. And when I run on my own I can really focus on myself and not worry about slowing other people down [laughs].

iRunFar: Did you run any races specifically for training purposes in preparation for the world 100k?

Dannis: The Fall 50. But I love the energy around races, and the organization, and I love being out there running with other people. I do sign up for races a lot but the way that I run and pace, I find that I recover very quickly because I stay within a sustainable effort level and my body isn’t overly taxed. Of course, there are races that are more goal races, but I never go into races with specific goals so, for me, it’s more about getting out there and running with other people and embracing the atmosphere.

iRunFar: Talk about your training in the second half of this year. What sort of workouts did you run in preparation for this race?

Dannis: I strategically do one or maybe two workouts a week and mostly in this build-up [for worlds] it’s been progression runs. You can filter my Strava data by workout and I went back and it looks like I’ve mostly been doing progression runs for my speed workouts leading up to the Fall 50 and this race. I would finish those progression runs around 6:00 per mile and I think the fastest I finished a progression run was around 5:30 [per mile pace]; that was a really fast finish mile. For the most part, especially between the Fall 50 and 100k worlds, where I’ve really been taking it day-by-day to prioritize recovery, I’ve been looking to top out progression runs right around marathon heart rate and that puts me at about 6:10 to 6:20 [per mile] pace.

Larisa Dannis - horsing

Larisa Dannis horses around. Photo: Zac Marion

iRunFar: What about the last month or two before this race—what did you training look like?

Dannis: A lot of weekend long runs, which I do pretty much exclusively on trails. Being in the Headlands, I have access to some of the best trails. I’m a girl that loves to be outdoors and in nature so it’s great to get outdoors for a few hours! Those long runs have been entirely aerobic—I might push a little bit on the uphill because I love to climb and it’s one of my strengths—but for the most part I keep my heart rate aerobic. And I do that to make sure I’m running in a way that is sustainable.

iRunFar: What was your peak mileage in a week’s time in preparation for this race?

Dannis: I work with a coach and I like to track mileage, I’m a data person [laughs]. I run based on mileage but on my runs, when I’m actually out there, 90 to 95 percent of the runs are just on feel and completely aerobically: either pace and heart-rate range. [Author’s Note: Dannis’s Strava data show peak weekly mileage in the low 90s prior to the Fall 50.]

iRunFar: Is this your first Team USA selection? How are you feeling about that and about the upcoming experience in Doha generally?

Dannis: It is my first! All of this is somewhat last minute; the team captain emailed me back in September because one of the team members had dropped out. I was beyond honored and I said yes. It’s why I did the Fall 50—I needed a boost of confidence that I could run that far [laughs]. I’m thankful to be on this path. I’ve had a pretty unbelievable year so far: Boston, Western States, the Fall 50. Every time I think this year can’t get any crazier something else happens, I’m truly grateful. I’m always going to do my thing and never deviate from my approach, running the way that I do is what has allowed me to be successful.

Regardless, it’s going to be an adventure. The conditions are going to be tough but I’m the sort of girl that does well in inclement conditions so I’m going to go out there looking to have fun and be happy.

Emily Harrison

iRunFar: Did your recent win at the IAU 50k give you extra confidence ahead of the world 100k? What did you learn from that race that might help, or even hurt you when you return to Doha?

Emily Harrison: I was nervous about doing the 50k and 100k so close together, especially since I have had some problems with recovery after long events. But now I feel like having run the 50k will help the 100k. I’m feeling pretty good post-[50k] and being able to get over there and run on the course, experience the conditions, can only be beneficial. Plus it was a good training effort as well, good preparation because I haven’t done a lot of longer runs this summer.

Mentally, it’s a tough run. For me, my mindset is, if I’m going to do a loop course like that—a flat course—I want to be able to run a fast time. However, with conditions there, time is sort of out the window; a lot of it is just going to be by effort. I think that’s hard mentally because you are just running to compete, so you kind of lose a little bit of your incentive. At least, for me in the 50k, I lost a little incentive. So, as I finished the 50k I started thinking about the 100k and how I had to go 10 more loops, but I quickly nixed that [laughs]!

iRunFar: Tell me about your year leading up the 100k world championships. Did you run many races? Have extensive training blocks? How long has this race been a central focus in your training?

Harrison: The 50k, because of the conditions, was really used as preparation for the 100k. I only spent two months with specific preparation for the 50k and, consequently, the 100k. I started getting longer runs in again and did a couple fast-finish long runs, a couple workouts—hill runs or steady-state workouts or tempos.

The Lake Sonoma 50 Mile was a good effort, back in April, and then I shifted gears for Western States but things didn’t quite work out there. [Author’s Note: Harrison won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in a 7:26:15 course record. She started, but did not finish, the 2014 Western States 100.] Then this summer, Ian [Torrence] and I did TransRockies and that was a huge training effort for me; that was a really hard week or running but it kind of kick started things [after Western] and got me going. [Author’s note: The pair won the mixed division of the six-stage race in a time of 18:47:44.]

iRunFar: Did you run any races specifically for training purposes in preparation for the world 100k?

Harrison: I use a lot of local races in Flagstaff. A couple trail races—Soulstice [Mountain Trail Run], Gaspin’ In the Aspen, to kick things off in training back in August, and the Flagstaff Half Marathon—and a 10k road race I used as a workout, so a lot of stamina work. [Author’s note: Harrison won the 11-mile Soulstice race and was third overall in a course-record time of 1:17:57; Harrison bested her previous course record at the 15k Gaspin’ In the Aspen event, finishing in 58:26; she then won the half marathon in 1:28:16 and was second overall.]

2014 Soulstice Mountain Trail Run

Emily Harrison cruises to a win at the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run. Photo: © Martos Hoffman

iRunFar: Talk about your training in the second half of this year. What sort of workouts did you run in preparation for this race?

Harrison: Everything was pretty much marathon effort but altitude adjusted. So the first harder long run I did was 18 miles on the forest-service road—dirt roads—and at the end of that run I did eight miles at fast finish, all under 6:20 per mile pace. The other long run was at A1 Mountain, same pace toward the end, maybe a little bit quicker, around low six-minute per mile. And then Ian [Torrence] had me doing some 200 meters at the end of some runs and strides.

I ran more trails earlier in the year and didn’t do any workouts leading up to Western, just running. So I’ve gotten back into faster running and getting some workouts in this fall. I have also cut my mileage down.

iRunFar: What about the last month or two before this race—did you run any key workouts to sharpen your speed and endurance?

Harrison: The 50k, as I’ve said, was definitely a confidence builder and a good, long effort to get ready for worlds. Leading into the 50k I did a final fast-finish long run and then actually a hill workout, a hill circuit, at Buffalo Park as my last workout. I respond well to hills so I think that’s why Ian put it in there; it was a confidence builder. So I did some strides throughout that. Then, between now and the 100k, I’ll try to recover but also stay sharp so probably a steady-state workout and maybe at least one fast-finish semi-long run. I might do two, depending on how I’m feeling closer to the race.

iRunFar: What was your peak mileage in a week’s time in preparation for this race?

Harrison: I’ve only been running in the 60 or 70 miles per week range, with a day off every other week and basically, going into the 50k, a day off every week. Peak mileage was maybe 70 miles in a week, very tame.

iRunFar: What are your goals on race day? How would your ideal race play out in terms of splits, finishing time, and so forth?

Harrison: The ideal day would definitely be coming away with the win, but the race approach right now—the 50k was all about effort and I did a good job of keeping everything dialed back and keeping myself cool. So it’ll be the same approach for the 100k. It will be interesting to see what the other women do: if they are aggressive, or if everyone is pretty chill—that will be interesting. But time is definitely out the window, which is unfortunate, but that is the way it goes. At a certain point, though, it’s like, I want to be done, so how fast can I run without killing myself, to just be done as well [laughs]. In the end, it’s really just about competing and seeing where I stack up.

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