Untrained Ultra – 12 Weeks, More Than 50k…

When you experiment with yourself, you can get fantastic and fascinating results – because you quit trying to find the best way first and get going instead… and because your sample is just 1.

I’m on record complaining about Tim Ferriss and his brand of personal development going astray, exactly as it applies to ultramarathons – and all the more so because I claimed that he probably could finish a 50k within the 12 weeks of training he ‘advertised’ (but never came through with even mentioning anymore).

Still on through the Seetaler AlpenInadvertently, I created a similar situation for myself in the run-up to the Via Natura 100 mile trail:

Where a real ultra-runner preparing for such a race would rake in 100-200 mile weeks, I hardly did that in the 12 weeks leading up to the race.

The last run before the race was 3 days before, doing lactate testing to finally get the medical certificate necessary for participation. (I had thought I’d just go to my usual doctor on Monday and get it signed, only to find out that he was on vacation until the day before the race. Fortunately, I asked at the ‘Sportordination‘ in Vienna, and promptly I got lucky with someone having to cancel their next day’s appointment and me getting it.)

Six 3-minute episodes rising to 18km/h speed. On a treadmill. Not what’s recommended mere days before a race.

The last time I had been out training before that (there was also a little work-related hike), I went up the Feuerkogel at the Traunsee lake (one of my usual ‘quick’ mountain training runs) the day after a sauna/steam bath visit, feeling weak and steamy. And then, after getting up there in 1 hour 30, I moved back down, checked when the next train back would go when I was down quite a bit, found that it would be in some 15 minutes, and ran all-out to catch that train.

12.6 km, 1156 m of ascent and then descent, in 02:16 hours, (at an average heart rate of 177 and reaching a maximum of 225(?)). Not all that unusual for me, but a mountain trail sprint race more than anything training-like.

Before that? Aside from one of the usual relaxed circles, that was the Linz marathon, just about a month before the 100 mile race. There, I ran in Salomon S-Lab (trail) shoes because I found that I neither had any decent road-running shoes anymore, nor the money and inclination to get new ones just for that race. And I started out only too fast, as usual when I do such things, only to get close to some cramping later on, have to walk a bit – and finish in my (apparently) usual 3:45.

April Training Statistics
April training statistics: 4 ‘moves’

All in all, after February (which was a good training month), I did only 14 “moves” I recorded as training, spanning 19:30 hours, covering a distance of 195 km, ascending merely 3000 m. That’s what a good runner may do in 2 weeks, not in more than 2 months… and I may have counted some twice because they were recorded once with my usual Ambit2 and once with the Ambit2R I was then testing.

FitBit data for last 12 months, in contrast
FitBit data for last 12 months, in contrast

Then again, my average daily number of steps during that time, as recorded by the FitBit One I carry, was between 12000 and 13000 (where 10000 steps is said to constitute a “highly active” lifestyle). So, I wasn’t just sitting around, either.

Is there anything to learn from that, though?

Well, it apparently is possible to finish a 100 mile mountain ultra marathon, going into it with a decent foundation of fitness but having done relatively little training.
Having had the adequate gear and enough experience certainly helped – but it all, aside from a decent physical foundation, mainly comes down to just what I’d written before, I feel: Do you really want to do it and are you able to overcome the obstacles in the way? Especially the psychological ones? Especially the competitive spirit that tells you that you’re not good enough if you aren’t among the fastest of finishers?

No way to know that in theory, no way to gain the fitness – whether from the usual training plans or some “minimum effective dose” – by perfect planning. You’ll just have to go out, find out for yourself, and get better at it by the doing. Or realize you don’t want that.

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