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?

There are 9 comments

  1. angie's pink fu

    unfortunately, as i've never run longer than 32 miles, i have no advice re: 100 miles.however, i am just as curious as you to see what comments you get! my own training, even just for "short" 50ks has been sporadic and i am wondering about how long ppl think you need to train for stuff… i've only ever had short, three-month buildups…

  2. Trail Goat

    Angie,I think whatever advice people give here will be nearly equally applicable to 100 milers and 50ks. Off the bat, I'd say that 3 months is plenty of time for someone with a bit of running background to get ready for a 50k, though a longer time of maybe 4-6 months may yield a slightly better time. Likewise, my 5-6 months period of training focusing on a particular 100 have certainly been adequate to prepare me for a good race. What I'm not sure of, and what I hope others will have insight into is how close to optimal fitness does 4 month, 6 months, a year, or 17 months of training get an already experienced runner? (I'm fairly certain that someone who has recently begun running can improve for a number of years while focusing mostly on base training.) Put another way, how much am I leaving on the table if I've only put in 6 months of training for a 100 – 3%, 5%, 10%? I guess it depends, in part, on what additional training those extra months would allow for. IF I decide to go with this longer training period (and maybe even if I don't), I'll post on what I envision on longer term training plan to look like and how it would differ from a 6 month plan.

  3. AnthonyP

    B – I really think that you can run a 100 in 2008 without having a significant impact on training for WS in 2009. I suppose a lot depends on one's physical limits and experience/ability, but my opinion is that 6 months of training for a 100 by someone with your ability and experience is plenty, and I don't think you will leave anything on the table.Well, I didn't answer the 2 questions yet….First, the longest period I trained for a race was about 5 months (GTR 100 in 2007), and even that included a spell of being sick which cost me a week or two. During that time I also ran some shorter distance races (50 and 26.2) as part of training, setting PRs twice at the marathon distance, and running marathons on consecutive weekends for training purposes. Second, I think the minimum amount of time to develop an optimal endurance base (althout that too depends on the individual) is about 3 months, perhaps less for someone like you.The way I see it, and this is assuming that for you, 2 months of base training is sufficient (and not taking into account that you will have been training for most of 2008), if you run Grindstone in October and take a full month to recover, that will leave you December and January to re-establish your base (more than enough time). So, that gives you February to the end of June to get ready for WS 2009.Look, you are not like the rest of us "average" folk. I consider you in the upper tier of ultra runners. I firmly believe that you can be optimally ready for a 100 in as little as 5 months time, and that running a 100 in 2008 will not have any impact on your training and performance if you run WS in 2009.

  4. olga

    OK, I'll bite. I don't know what is considered to be "goal race" and optimal training from your standpoint, as it's quit personal. In my good year 2005, I trained for WS as a goal race for 5 months. I screwed up along the way a lot, but still had a race of my life. But – I had a huge (by my standards) base training from 2004. What, by the way, included 2 100M races, and one of them was flawless. Again, in 2005, I had another great rcae at SD100, what consisted of 2 weeks taper after Wasatch (and WS at effort, VT with survival mode, DNF at LT and a death march at WF) and 5 weeks high quality training. Again, I had a solid base. I don't think I ever "trained" for the goal 100 since:( That said, I do believe you have 6 months to train for fall 100, and then plenty of time to recover and train again. There is a reason the Great of gang do at least 1, if not 2 goal races a year. I do believe we loose edge when we don't do it for too long. Loose excitement, loose passion, loose focus, and yes, loose ability to feel and fight pain. Loose competetiveness too. What if in 2009, God forbids, something happens and you are not able to train well, or something comes between you and a goal race? At least you would have had a race behind in 2008 you can be proud of.C'mon, Goat, you can be in perfect shape for either one of those 100!!! And then shoot for top 10 at WS!

  5. AJW

    I think you are on the right track. Some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world are Norweigan Nordic skiers and they train on four year cycles. Given your age and experience taking a year off from 100's in 2008 could catapult you into not only the top 10 at WS in 2009 but possibly the top-3. Depending on how assertive you try to be.See you down the trail.

  6. Loomdog

    Bryon, don't forget one huge factor!!!1 Life! Life is fun and sporadic and should be spontaneous…life can mess up the best of plans. You could end up in egypt! you never know. run and expereicnce all you can now. As the Kenyans do….train hard and when ready run … "strike when the Iron is hot".Specifically.. My longest build up for a 100 was last years Vermont. 8 dedicated months. result: absolute SUCK–Oooh! Shortest 100 build up was when I was really busy and needed a physical challenge and outlet. I finished RR 100 in 25hrs after one 22 miler and one 50k and averaging 24 miles per week in the 12 weeks prior to race day.Both races were fun in the end..but RR was not a disappointment as I had little expectations.I say run Grindstone. In fact I beg you to run with me. It will be epic and you will not want to be left out. We will run it the way you ran Mt masochist last fall. For fun and the pure love of being out and moving. You never know when that ability may be taken from you…don't put of a run for fear it may mess up the future.The best thing for optimal race performance IMO is a 2 year base and a specific 12 week build up. You surely can do that with runs at Tahoe rim, Grindstone and others thrown in for fun.cheers and best of luck!

  7. Trail Goat

    Wow, y'all are great! I'm going to wait and see if some more folks leave their thoughts before I way back in particularly since there's a split opinion out there. So all you others reading this please chime in.

  8. Flounder

    I may be a little different, but I think of training in a extended period. My goal in starting running in 2003 (Age34) was to try and be the best I could be by age 40 (2009). Although there are micro periods during the year, generally the focus has been the same – Long-term 1st and yearly goals 2nd.For longer races, I follow my own marathon training plan and add 1 50-60k run and 1 – 40-50+ mile run during each 5 week cycle. I have run 40/20 back to back long runs – But "Learning to run tired" does not make a ton of sense to me. To long of a recovery period. I am not sure my approach is all that great, but it works well for me and seems to put the least amount of disruption in my life.

  9. Trail Goat

    Flounder,I like the idea of an extended training plan and intended to do one over the 5 years after I finished working my way through law school. Unfortunately, I have not stuck to that plan. Thanks for commenting.

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