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Base Building Training, Ultra Style

March 11, 2019 3 min read

Nathan athlete Jason Wolfehas been a runner since he was four years old when he ran his first 5K. At nine, he started racing track and cross-country and by 13 had already set an Oklahoma 5K age group record. Throughout his middle school and high school years running in his home state of Oklahoma, he won several state titles. Then, he set off for collegiate middle distance running at Northern Arizona University.

After taking some time away from competition-seven years in fact-to build a family and focus on other parts of his life, Wolfe is back in full force training and racing out of his new home base in Flagstaff, Arizona. And, word on the street is he's one of the best mountain runners in the country (according to several local elite Flagstaff runners). And, he's played the role of coach, athlete and teammate all throughout his career garnering some specific, helpful and well-tested knowledge about how to race an ultramarathon.

Herewith, Wolfe's advice on base building training for an ultrarmathon:

Slumped over my finisher's buckle and bloody feet, I took a deep breath and reflected on my race. I had just completed the Ice Age Trail 50-Miler, a competitive race in the Midwest. But getting through it had been an epic struggle. Admittedly, I knew this was a likely outcome. ... You just can't fake an ultra. A 5K, sure, a 10K, maybe. An Ultra? No way. If you don't have the proper fitness and training, you certainly can expect to encounter difficulty. In my case, a groin injury had prevented me from completing an over three-hour run over in nearly four months. Consequently, my "ultra-strength"¬ù was lacking.

Taking into account my newly healed injury, my lack of "ultra strength," and a desire for a heavy late summer/fall racing schedule after completing that race, I decided the best path forward was to implement a Base Building Phase of training.

In my pre-ultra running career, I employed base training after an injury, after significant time off, and/or during less focused training periods. The benefit of this work is related to foundation building and/or injury prevention to support future training efforts. Along with running, I compliment this training with a focused stretching and strength routine.

As my running evolved towards racing ultras, so did my approach to base training. Due to an ultra's high demand for strength, building a solid base is crucial for a runner's success. The Long Run, which I define as a run between three and five hours is the single most important component of training for such longer efforts. With that being said, balanced training that exercises the various running building blocks can't be overlooked and should be considered when building a training plan.

The table below is an example of what a base building week of training might look like. When considering the stimulus-adaptation response, I typically do about four to six weeks of this type of training. During this time, my mantra is "just run."¬ù I try to keep the running "light" and focused on volume vs. quality. Each day, I run how I feel. If I want to go fast, I go fast. If I want to go slow, I go slow. This is also a great time to try new routes and focus on simply "having fun."¬ù


(Editor's note: This table indicates high mileage that may not be suitable for every level of runner. Plan your training according to your experience level and life demands. And, if needed consult a coach to create a base building plan that's best for you.)

Upon completion of this phase, I like to take five to seven days easy or off and then I launch into my race specific training which will last up to 12 weeks with multiple training cycles lasting four to six weeks. The fitness built during the base phase along with the recovery afterwards will propel you into the race specific training and hopefully ensure you won't encounter your own "epic struggle."¬ù

Check out Jason's blog and follow his training and racing: http://jasonwolfe.blogspot.com/.


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