Your Ultra-Training Bag of Tricks

One of the highlights of iRunFar in 2012 was the addition of Ian Torrence’s Your Ultra-Training Bag of Tricks column. Every month since April, he’s provided his insights into nine discrete ultramarathon training topics.

After taking a winter hiatus in January, Ian will be back to doling out his experienced advice starting in February. The topics he’ll tackle in coming months are a bit more esoteric – motivation, goal setting, and pacing during a race – than his physiology-focused efforts of 2012.

Call for Comments

  • Which of Ian’s articles have you found the most useful or enjoyed the most?
  • What topics would you like to see Ian write about in 2013?

Additional Resources

If you’re looking for additional fundamental ultramarathon running information, you might want to check out the Training for an Ultramarathon article that kicked off iRunFar as we know it… or, for you paper-flipping fans, there’s always Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons, a book penned by the publisher of iRunFar (i.e., me).

Ian Torrence - Flatirons

Ian Torrence running in front of the Flatirons.

There are 11 comments

  1. KenZ

    How about an article (and more importantly for this topic, the subsequent discussion) on: "Training how you race: what you can control and adapt, and what you can't"

    Basically, we all know that it's smart to do things before a known race like run with the shoes (and socks!!!) in which you're going to race, run with the hydration system loaded with the gear you'll have to carry, perhaps back-to-backs to simulate running on tired legs, practice eating, etc.

    Some of this stuff consists of absolutes that you can control (e.g. shoes, headlamp). Some of it you can kinda control (eating/stomach issues for the first 6-ish hours), and some of it, at least to me, seems to be out of my control/unknown (what will my stomach feel like at 20+ hours, especially as I don't know what that aid station may have?)

    Are there things I can do to train my body to accept different types of foods… can one really adapt to that? How do I best train to ensure that my legs can really accept 20,000+ feet of descending when I clearly don't do that in a training day? I'm focusing on a few things here, but I think there is good discussion to be had on what one can and can't do in training to effect outcomes/adaptation for races that are much longer than training.

    Example: Should you perhaps practice in-race blister prevention/mitigation? Sometimes things happen in long races that just don't happen in training (e.g. chaffing, blisters in areas never experienced before, sunburn, hypothermia, whatever). Thus, if your drop bag has, say, one of the Zombie Runner foot care kits, should you actually USE IT in training so that if/when you need to use it you know what you're doing? I use this particular example because I THOUGHT my drop bag was great until I actually had to use the blister kit on a 100 miler this year. What I found I didn't have in there was a) a water bottle with water in it to wash my feet off so that the tape would stick b) a towel to dry my feet off after washing c) a plastic drop cloth to sit on/stand on so that after washing my feet, I didn't then immediately put them in the dirt again. Now all my drop bags have a water bottle, larger alcohol/baby wipes, towel, and drop cloth…. Again, if I'd TRAINED on foot care, then I'd have been prepared.


    Other possible topic, not necessarily by Ian:

    Pace charts: how to make them, WHY you should consider making them (plans are useless, planning is essential), examples (images, links, and downloads), etc. On this one, I have what I think is the best, most compact, and useful pace chart format, happy to share, but it does take a lot of work for each race to create it.

  2. Luke Garten

    I would love to see a topic written about eating during an ultra. This is something that has bothered me during every race I have ever done.

    During training runs I seem to be able to eat allmost anything and be able to eat up to 300 calories an hour. It has been a lot better now that I do not drink more than is needed. During a race however I get very nauseous. At my last 50 miler I ate a mix of gels and granola bars at 100 calorie doses every 25 minutes. This worked fine for the first 3.5 hours but I couldn't eat for the rest of the 3.5 hours other than some sips of Coke.

    I assume most people have this problem. I am not sure if I should start training on my long runs while consuming no calories in hope to get my body better at burning fat as energy so at my next race try a lot less calories per hour.

  3. Serena

    I would love to see an article on coping mechanisms or ways to distract the mind from physical pain. I am not biomechanically blessed and I have to spend the last several hours of an ultra trying to decide if I am doing irreparable harm or just suffering temporarily and then convince myself to keep going.

  4. Steve

    How about a couple,of related topics:

    Who and why should some folks consider a coach?

    What should a person look for when selecting a coach

  5. pdc

    The art/science of "unbonking". Probably covered elsewhere but since old man meltzer attributes the term to Ian I thought maybe he might have special insight.

  6. Chris E.

    I would love to read one on recovery – how should one spend the day, week, month after a 50 or 100 miler. Running, cross-training, resting, eating, etc. When do I know I'm ready for a speed workout or another race? (If covered elsewhere, please reply with a link).


  7. Chris E.

    I would like to see something on pace charts as well – I spend hours putting them together and would like to see how others go about it.

    1. KenZ

      Drop me an email to kzemach (at) and I'll send you some of mine. But I can promise you it won't save you any time… it's VERY information dense, with the time estimates, distances, drop bag contents, special needs overlaid over the course elevation profile.

      I would note though in the "plans are useless, planning is essential" vein that it's the act of pouring over course profiles, past split times, calculating splits with an excel spreadsheet that is likely the largest value. By the time you get to the race, you've got the course issues and characteristics down pat, almost making the chart of minor value.

  8. imonway

    I would love to see an article on coping mechanisms or ways to distract the mind from physical pain. I am not biomechanically blessed and I have to spend the last several hours of an ultra trying to decide if I am doing irreparable harm or just suffering temporarily and then convince myself to keep going.

Post Your Thoughts