Iterate Your Training to Maximize Your Ultrarunning Potential

“Do not try anything new on race day.” Essential race day wisdom. Those who choose to ignore this advice are destined to be plagued with blisters or upset stomach or some other malady that will derail their peak performance. The race may start according to plan, but throughout, trouble will unfold.

Practicing your race day plan during training is the key to avoiding this insidious pitfall. Sounds easy enough right? Maybe for a road marathon it is, however for an ultra, that takes place over many many hours and in often remote locations, it is a lot harder than it sounds.

Except for the lucky few, most of us have day jobs, families, and other responsibilities around which we shape our training. It is difficult to get fully stocked aid stations every 5-10 miles with a smattering of everything that could taste amazing. It is difficult to have drop bags with a change of shoes and socks waiting at key locations. It is difficult to coordinate a pacer to greet you midway and take your mind off your woes.

In my world, with an ultrarunning husband, two kids that cannot yet stay alone for more than an hour, and friends who have their own running goals and families and jobs, it is incredibly difficult to orchestrate a scenario to test all my race day strategies. A dress rehearsal is not typically an option for the average ultra runner.

Enter ITERATION. A cyclical tool I recently learned in an online writing class that also works well for running.

Iteration is the repetition of a process in order to generate desirable outcomes. Using iteration gives structure to trial and error so that what works and what doesn’t is easy to decipher. This knowledge helps me formulate the strategy for race day, the capstone of my training journey.

While iteration can feel like turning back time to high school science and the scientific method, it is far simpler than that. This process does not require statistics knowledge or intensive data crunching. You do not have to be a data geek (though I do tend to be) for this to work for you.

How Iteration Works:

  1. DEFINE A VARIABLE TO TEST. For example, you could test drinking Tailwind every other hour and solid foods in the in between hours. Limit it to one variable at a time and keep the other components of your run the same as typical.
  2. GO DO IT. Try out the variable and record what happened. Do not get wrapped up in judgement at this point. Simply write down facts about how it worked, how you felt, if anything happened like nausea or a burst of energy.
  3. SET A TIME LIMIT. Decide how long you would like to test the variable. I would recommend somewhere between 5 and 10 runs. Don’t reserve these trials for only your long runs. Mix it up by testing during shorter runs as well.
  4. ANALYZE YOUR FINDINGS. When you hit that stopping point, review your findings. Did you find that rotating Tailwind and solid food left you feeling energized? Or did you find that you were nauseous almost every time? Or that you couldn’t keep down anything?
  5. ADJUST AND GROW. Once you have the data and have analyzed it, you can make some decisions about what works and what doesn’t. Use this knowledge for the next round of iteration to fine tune even further.

Creating more structure when learning what works for you will give you better answers sooner. It might seem tedious but you will be grateful on race day when you know to avoid jelly beans at mile 40 or to be sure to drink apple juice every 10 miles. Over time, you can fine tune your strategies and adjust them as you grow as a runner.

The journey continues…….

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