Fitness Intuition

Art of the Low-Mileage Ultra

Eric Robinson is one of a kind. Eric has run countless ultras, averaging 2-3 or more per month. Eric keeps careful track of his training and racing. "I record my race entries in a spreadsheet," he says. "Sometimes I realize on Friday that I'm entered in a race the next morning. It can be quite a scramble to get ready in time!"

Eric keeps close track of his training and learns from his experiences. Eric posted the following reports on the online ultra lists during 1996. They're worth reading if you're interested in running ultras on low training mileage.

I call this kind of training the Shearer/Robinson method, after Eric Robinson and Suzi Shearer. Suzi has run more 100-milers than any other female runner. Suzi's and Eric's training is virtually identical, and consists of one or two very short, very easy runs on weekdays, and an ultra-length training run on the weekend. Note well: you'll feel so good on Shearer/Robinson low-mileage training that you'll be tempted to increase your weekday miles. This is counterproductive. Eric often does 400-m speedwork repeats during his mid-week run.

Both Eric and Suzi have achieved extremely good results on low-mileage training. Both runners have finished the hardest of all the U.S. mountain 100-milers: the Hardrock 100, an incredibly hard race with 32,000' of climbing and a 48-hour time limit. Suzi is one of just two runners, as of this writing, ever to finish the ridiculously difficult Barkley Marathons.

My most aggressive mileage ramping occurred a couple years ago
when my long run went from zero to one hundred in less than six
months.  I believe that it succeeded because of the massive
amounts of rest I got between runs (i.e. in 23 weeks I ran
only 36 times).     
I started out trying to run at least two or three times per
week, because at the time, I believed that was the minimum
for any training schedule.  I started to make real progress
when I abandoned this idea (week 8), and decided to run only
once per week unless I felt exceptionally strong.     
Week M   T   W   Th  F   Sa  Su     TOT
---- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---    ---
1      2           2           2      6
2          2                   3      5
3              1               6      7
4                          7   7     14
5                          6          6
6                  9      10   5     24
7                     12   3         15
8                         21         21
9                         23         23
10    3                   26         29
11                 6      21         27
12                            12     12
13                        31         31
14                        21         21
15        16              23         39
16                        16         16
17                        36         36
18                     7              7
19                13      48*        61   *10 (am) + 38 (pm)
20    11                      23     34
21        43                         43
22                                    0
23                       106        106     
(The following >bracketed sentence is not Eric speaking but 
a commonent from a runner on the Ultra list.)

>Here's my basic training right now:  2-3X per 
>week: 4-5mi with a few 400m
>"form pick-ups".  1X per week: long run, currently 16mi.     
In your case, you may be pretty much adapted to running 3-4 times
per week, and if so your situation is probably different than
mine was.  However, the key to finishing the 50k will definitely
be your long runs, so you should consider the shorter runs as
expendable.  If eliminating or reducing your short runs enables
you to get in the longer stuff, by all means do so.  You won't
lose much, if anything, in terms of conditioning.     
>My goal race is a 50k, and it is 6 1/2 weeks away.     
You have time for two or maybe three really good long runs,
plus rest between them and a taper.  Since you will be increasing
the distance of your long runs pretty dramatically, I would
recommend two weeks between long ones, with rest weeks in
between per Galloway.     
What percentage of your long run is running?  What percentage
is walking?  If you're running at least 12 of the 16 miles,
and are accustomed to walking, I would suggest immediately
increasing your next long run to 24 miles (12 running and 12
walking).  This will give you the extra "time on your feet"
that you are probably lacking right now, and more than anything
else, help get you ready for the distance.     
For the remaining long run(s), you can concentrate on increasing
the overall distance as a primary goal, and the amount of
running as a secondary goal.     
(Second post follows.)
I have had the same experience about two dozen times in the past thirty
months.  However, many of these breaks were voluntary and in fact
"experiments" to learn how much time I could take off and not lose anything from
performance. I wanted to learn this to improve the tapering process before races.     
It turns out that a single break of 20 days is a bit longer than ideal
for me, but has no real negative consequences on endurance.  In general,
these breaks don't seem to harm my long runs at all.  I'm not sure what
effect they would have on daily runs (which I usually avoid).     
What         # of                            What
Preceded     Days                            Ended
Layoff       Off    Reason(s)                Layoff       Date      Perform
--------     ----   ---------                ---------    --------  -------
43 mi train  17     taper                    24 hr race   7/22/95   Excel
24 hr race   14     recover/taper            31 mi race   8/6/95    Good
31 mi race   33     recover/taper/injury     50 mi race   9/9/95    Poor
50 mi race   20     recover/taper            24 hr race   11/11/95  Fair
24 hr race   13     recover                  10 mi train  11/25/95
50 mi race   17     recover/injury           2 mi train   4/24/96
100 mi race  14     recover/injury           5 mi train   6/22/96
31 mi race   12     recover/taper            50 mi race   8/17/96   Poor
100 mi race  13     recover/taper            50 mi race   10/12/96  Excel
50 mi race   13     recover                  14 mi train  10/26/96
13 mi race   20     taper                    28 mi race   11/30/96  Excel
31 mi race   13     recover                  10 mi train  2/1/97
29 mi train  13     taper                    31 mi race   3/15/97   Fair
50 mi race   13     recover/taper            62 mi race   4/19/97   Poor
31 mi race   12     recover/taper            31 mi race   5/10/97   Excel
9 mi train   14     taper                    100 mi race  6/28/97   Good
100 mi race  12     recover/taper            29 mi dnf    7/11/97   Poor
29 mi dnf    14     recover                  9 mi train   7/26/97
50 mi race   13     recover/taper            100 mi race  9/27/97   Fair
100 mi race  13     recover/taper/injury     50 mi race   10/11/97  Good
50 mi race   13     recover/taper/injury     52 mi race   10/25/97  Fair
52 mi race   20     recover/taper/injury     25 mi dnf    11/15/97  Poor
25 mi dnf    13     recover/taper/injury     14 mi dnf    11/29/97  Poor     
My performances are affected by a lot of factors, but whether or how long
a break I had beforehand is apparently not one of them.     
# Eric Robinson     

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