Optimal Endurance Base Building or What's the Longest Period that You've Trained for One Race?

As this post is longer than I originally intended, I’ll ask my question to iRunFar community up front:

  1. What is the longest period of time that your dedicated to training for a particular race?
  2. More fundamentally, what is the minimum amount of time it takes to develop an optimal endurance base?

While I’d like to hear your answers to the preceding questions, please consider the remainder of this post containing background information regarding my particular situation and let me know what you think. Thanks!

With the possibility of my running Hardrock this year eliminated, my schedule for the year is once again wide open… and that’s left me some serious thinking left to do. For the past few months, the Tahoe Rim 100 was my back up plan if I didn’t make it into HRH. However, with my training still ramping up, I’ve started to consider two later season 100s, the Iroquois Trails 100 and Grindstone 100 – both of which I plan on writing about soon, so stop back in to read up on these new races. Alternately, I’m thinking about mostly avoiding racing this year so that I can focus on training…. training for Western States 2009, in particular.

Here’s a rough sketch of my reasoning behind possibility avoiding racing, and especially 100 milers, this year in favor of training. First, I haven’t consistently trained since the spring of 2006. I’ve had some good bursts of up to 2 months, but nothing consistent. While 15+ years of running have given me the luxury of being in decent shape even without consistent training, there’s no substitute in endurance running for solid, consistent base training and I haven’t had thatin almost two years. In fact, I could argue that I’ve never really built a great endurance base since the fall of 1997, when my college coaches converted me from a distance runner into a sprinter in a moment of desperation.

In each year that I’ve run a 100 (2004-2006), I trained consistently for 5 to 6 months from the end of December or the beginning of January until the beginning of June when it was time to taper for Western States. In 2005 and 2006 these consistent periods started at around 50 miles per week. In 2005, I worked up to maybe half a dozen 70-85 mile weeks spread intermittently through the spring with two 100+ mile weeks just before my taper. In 2006, I took my training to a new level with the following sequence of 10 weeks between the end of February and the end of April – 64, 76, 77.5, 86.2, 82, 85, 88, 87.6, 67.5, 97.5 – and then logged another 109 mile week just before my taper. After some summer racing, I didn’t “train” during the falls of 2004-06. Although I was quite happy with my training early in 2005 and 2006, I don’t consider those stretches to be maximal base building periods. I think a great endurance base and a great endurance runner requires longer periods of quality consistent training.

So why am I considering looking past 2008 and focusing on 2009. Well, there are two reasons. First, after regrettably inconsistent training in 2007, I’d like to rebuild my endurance base as best I can. Second and more important with respect to the timing of this Year of Training, barring a significant rule change by the Board of the Western States Endurance Run, I’ll be in the 2009 Western States Endurance Run under the two-time loser rule. Early in my ultrarunning career, I set my lifetime ultra goal as breaking 20 hours at WS based on the benchmarks set by my ultra heroes. With their mentoring and support, a strong training season, and great race day conditions, I surpassed that goal in 2005. Since then, I’ve made my dream goal placing Top 10 at States. To have any shot at achieving that goal, I believe I’ll need to have the race of my life after training myself to the limit of my abilities.

Right now, I’m debating whether such training requires me to dedicate the next 17 months exclusively towards that goal. I have three major concerns with my running a 100 miler in 2008:

  1. First, I will end up tailoring my training schedule to peak for the 2008 race that will deviate too greatly from my training if I were focused solely on getting ready for 2009.
  2. Second, if I race a100 in 2008, I will taper for 3 weeks leading up to the race.
  3. Lastly, I will definitely have to dedicate 2 weeks following the 100 for recovery and risk needing a significantly longer recovery period that I’ve required following some other races.

In summary, if I race a 100 in 2008, I will materially alter my training schedule and need to spend at least 5 weeks away from training.

The only positives I can find for racing a 100 in 2008 besides the general enjoyment and challenge of the task (which I do not and should not be underestimated) are:

  1. It would provide me with motivation to train during a significant portion of this year;
  2. It would allow me to remember the psychological, physiological, and logistical aspects of running a 100, which would be particularly valuable considering I did not attempt a 100 in 2007; and
  3. It would give me a chance to push my comfort zone, to run “assertive” as Andy Jones-Wilkins would say, early in a 100. This is something that I’ve never done, but which would be of the utmost value if I want to reach my potential at 100 milers or any race for that matter.

Ok, I could go on for . . . . ever on this topic, but I’ll leave the rest to all y’all. Let me know what you think. How long should you or I prepare for our dream race?