Holding Back: The Ultrarunner’s Art of Restraint

AJW shares some why ultrarunners should show restraint in training and some tips on how to do that.

By on April 26, 2013 | Comments

AJWs TaproomAs spring gives way to summer and we enter the heart of ultrarunning season, many of us are working hard to increase our distance, speed, or both. As such, we are logging long miles and trying to pack as much training into the lengthening days as we can. Along the way, of course, there are risks. And it is in managing these risks that the Ultrarunner’s Art of Restraint comes into play.

Every year, many runners fail to make it to the starting line of their goal race due to injury, fatigue, or both. Often these injuries are born out of over-exuberance in the spring that can be brought on by a wide variety of factors. Anxiety about the upcoming event, fear of what the competition might be doing, feeling extra good on each workout so running extra hard on each workout, and the dreaded FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) all play a factor in this DNS epidemic. Additionally, the excellent array of spring races provide runners with all kinds of opportunities to blow their chance at a great summer race by running too hard too soon. I have observed more than a few runners who have used up their Western States legs at Leona Divide or Miwok and left Placer High School disappointed the last weekend in June.

What is needed during these halcyon days of April is restraint. And, let’s face it, we’re ultrarunners so restraint is not exactly in our wiring. Given that, here are five little pieces of advice to help you keep it together until your big event:

1. Learn how to run a race as a training run. Many people say they are going to do this when they toe the line at that little 50-miler in April but something happens to them when the gun goes off and they end up running too hard, too fast, too soon, trashing their quads, and jeopardizing success on the Big Day.

2. Listen to your body. Ultra training takes a toll on the body and one of the things it does is increases pain tolerance. As such, often that little niggling pain can become a serious injury just because you haven’t been paying attention. A little diligence in May will pay off in June.

3. Rest when you’re tired. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many runners train through fatigue thinking it will make them tougher on Race Day. The sad truth is, training through fatigue only brings on more fatigue and by the time your body completely breaks down, it’s too late to recover in time.

4. Run at least two easy runs per week. Typically, by the spring time you are feeling better and better and your daily runs are getting faster and faster. This is precisely the time to be sure to make a concerted effort to force yourself to run easy at least twice a week. Whatever it takes, leave the Garmin at home, run a route you’ve never run before, find a running partner that is noticeably slower than you, just try to go easy twice a week. It’ll make the quality days much better.

5. Don’t skimp on sleep. You’d be surprised how many runners don’t get enough sleep during the build-up phase. This can add to the general wearing-down feeling that accompanies an increase in distance and speed and can, like running through fatigue, cause irreparable damage.

So, this is all to say, do your best during this exciting time in your training to practice the ultrarunner’s of forgotten art of restraint.  It could just be the key factor in getting you to that finish line.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from a Taproom favorite, the Lagunitas Brewing Company in northern California. Their great seasonal ale, Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, is an outstanding American Strong Ale that is a nicely balanced offering in this broad, and often misunderstood, style.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Have you ever caught yourself training too much ahead of a focus race?
  • Got any tips on how you keep yourself (and your training) in check?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.