Photo credit to my friends at Linked Ring, who took the opportunity to snag a CamelBak promo shot after I got my rental car stuck in the Bonneville Salt Flats.

My Ultramarathon Training & Fundraiser

I'm about six weeks away from starting my second marathon training, this time for an ultramarathon covering 50k. Anyone undertaking a challenging endeavor for the first time is bound to learn a great deal about that activity, what made it difficult for them, and how they might approach it differently in the future. So there are many things I plan to do differently this time, and in this post I'm going to break some of that down for you. One of those things that I'll state off the bat is that I'm aiming to raise a minimum of $2,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and I hope by the time you complete this reading that you'll become a donor yourself. Let's get started.

Table of Contents

  1. Training for Training
  2. Getting Bendy
  3. Introducing Keto
  4. Beefcakes United Ltd.
  5. The Race Training

Training for Training

Last time, I "trained to train," and this approach was definitely beneficial. I exercised most days, limiting my total weekly mileage to fewer than 10 miles and focusing more on strength training and yoga. This strategy worked well for my fitness level at the time and set me up for success with the kind of strain I was about to put my body through when the real training began. That's when the learning truly started. My form, shoes, mindset, diet, and guilty habits were all suddenly up for adjustment.

Today, I'm exercising for about 90 minutes every day, primarily focusing on yoga, strength training, biking, and hiking. It's a lot of activity, broken up into multiple sessions throughout the day. I don't think I could have made this a routine if not for having trained for that first marathon and experiencing what it was like to fully commit and endure such grueling physical work.

Growing up, I played baseball and became somewhat comfortable with homegrown gymnastics, doing all sorts of ill-advised childhood stunts. Moreover, I learned about gymnastics form and training when dating a wonderfully talented and patient person who was a gymnastics coach at the time (now a trapeze artist). My point in sharing this: I'm starting from a different place than many, and I want to underscore that what you're reading here should be seen through that lens. What I've done in the past is not a requirement, but it is my starting place, and it's far from starting at zero.

Once my career in design truly started after college, however, I became another hunched-over human being bound to their computer and stressing out to keep my woefully underpaid and truly terrible first job. This led to numerous injuries due to inactivity, hunching over for endless hours, getting very little sleep (I once billed 140 hours in one week at that job), and having very few hobbies that involved my body doing anything without a keyboard and mouse.

Fast forward some 5 or 6 years, I eventually became financially stable enough to truly monitor my health and get myself back into a generally content state of fitness (yes, money does in fact liberate you from many seemingly avoidable poor health conditions - and I am humbled to be able to enjoy this). I was fortunate to have had the experience of breaking through the physical barriers that I would confront in sports as a kid, though what really got me back on track was the retained belief that I could do it if I wanted to, that it would eventually be less miserable, and the need to prove to myself that I could commit to seeing it through.

Today, my body is very different from when I was 18 and could do a standing backflip. Now, with a disc in my neck consistently threatening to herniate, cartilage removed from my right knee (here comes the early arthritis), and carpal tunnel forming in my overused right wrist, I'm on a quest to finish a 50k in October and to be able to hold a 1-minute-long handstand by the end of 2024. The handstand is the stretch goal; the 50k is simply part of my ongoing fitness objectives. I don't care about personal records, but I do care about my resilience. Resilience is what keeps me coming back, keeps me trying, and ensures I at least try to learn from my mistakes.

So to that end, I've sculpted my own training program for the three months preceding the running training. I'm going to cover the three most important aspects of my pre-training: yoga, keto, and strength training.

Getting Bendy

Most of my days already include some form of yoga in the evenings. I honestly don't understand the science of it, but it seems to bring blood flow through all those areas of my body that need to cycle blood out while breaking up muscle fascia and reducing overall inflammation. Other days, I make yoga the main event for the sake of deep stretches, core strength, flexibility, balance, and above all, body awareness.

What is body awareness? If you're hearing this phrase for the first time, or have only heard it as part of a woo-woo marketing campaign, you might be considering closing this tab already. I understand that reaction, but I hope you'll stick with this, as there is much more to the concept than you may expect or even experience.

So, let's just say your body is an intricate network of hopefully happy but often not-so-happy components, interconnected by complex muscle weaves. Let's say they're a bunch of pulleys and joints. While you can study anatomy to gain a more precise understanding of the function of each bone and muscle, it's no substitute for your physical awareness of what's happening now in your body.

For the sake of explaining this, I like to imagine there are two types of body awareness: logical awareness and present awareness. The first is simply knowing that something exists (or doesn't), while the latter involves being in tune with your own body - observing how it operates; "listening" to your mind, exploring how pressure in one area affects soreness in another, etc. It's about being the playhead to your body's record, and spotting patterns and connections. Developing a keen present awareness is invaluable, especially for enduring activities like running for 5+ hours.

To give an example, I've realized after running up a number of steep hills that if I clench my buttocks I can gain substantial support for strained calves and reduce strain on my knees. In doing so, I create a network of muscle to work against a common problem: gravity.

In my experience, yoga has been the best way to develop a strong sense of present body awareness. You learn of the groups of muscles that work well together to support you where you're at, while more typical sources you may find online will prescribe solutions that overlook these important muscle collaborations. While running also helps, the level of mindfulness you bring to your breathing and its impact on various systems within your body during yoga is uniquely beneficial. It has transformed how I run, lift, and even perform music.

If you're interested in getting started with yoga, here are some tips:

  • Begin with short, manageable sessions.
  • Distinguish between soreness and injury when you feel discomfort.
  • Start with short routines and gradually increase your practice.
  • Aim for one relatively intensive yoga session per week after building up your comfort with it.

For beginners, I highly recommend taking a 40-minute vinyasa class at a studio. If the studio offers different levels, start with Level 1 vinyasa. Being new might feel awkward, but remember, it's a common feeling for everyone at the start, and your classmates are too focused on their own practice to judge. A good instructor will guide you through variations to prevent overexertion while teaching you how to develop the balance and depth of stretch you need. Starting in a studio allows you to learn by observing others and receiving direct feedback from an instructor. Finding an instructor who suits your needs may take a few tries; not every class will be a perfect fit, and finding a great instructor is as challenging as finding any professional you resonate with.

If you prefer starting a yoga practice at home, I recommend "Yoga with Tim" or "Yoga with Adriene." Tim focuses on power yoga and includes challenging core exercises, while Adriene emphasizes restorative practices. Both offer varied workouts, but this is how I differentiate when deciding between their sessions.

Having practiced yoga for about seven years, I often create my own sequences based on how my body feels that day. This approach works well for my restorative sessions, though I also attend classes or follow online videos for more structured and intense workouts.

Introducing Keto

I've altered my diet for this pre-training period to be moderately ketogenic and will transition to a cyclical ketogenic diet when it's time for consistent long-distance runs. I find the keto diet to be very effective in providing energy for my current activities and in keeping me optimistic and happy, without relying heavily on carbs for energy throughout the day.

However, starting this diet proved to be enormously challenging for me. Part of the difficulty stemmed from my routine consumption of full-sugar ice cream (curse you, Van Leeuwen and Salt & Straw). This habit led to semi-frequent midnight ice cream snacks, an ensuing sugar dependency, and a self-perpetuating psychosomatic belief that it was aiding in stress reduction and positivity.

Adopting keto turned out to be instrumental in breaking my ice cream habit. It wasn't that keto curbed the craving as much as it disrupted a significant reward I would normally experience. I started by switching to keto-friendly ice cream, which was great at first but eventually lost its appeal. This switch helped me limit my carb intake to fewer than 50g per day, and this upheaval absolutely threw my emotions into disarray. I stayed the course, focused on the benefits awaiting me, and I reached my goal. I no longer have the urge to argue with inanimate objects causing minor frustrations in my home.

Adhering to a keto diet has also aided me in achieving my ideal weight, offering several key benefits beyond general health improvements. With lower cholesterol and visceral fat levels to boot, I'm carrying quite a bit less weight when I run. All in all I've dropped around 35 pounds - a lot of extra weight to be carrying for fifty kilometers.

I've performed what I think of as a factory reset on my cravings, dietary routines, and how my body makes use of food intake. If I hadn't pushed myself for that first marathon, I'm not sure I would have witnessed the clear day-to-day impact of my dietary choices on my mood, energy, and sense of strength.

Speaking of strength, let's talk getting swole.

Beefcakes United Ltd.

Aside from my warmup stretches, below is the resistance training routine I roughly adhere to two times a week. I maintain my yoga practice and go hiking almost every day, even on days designated for strength training. I advise against adopting my specific regimen wholesale, as it's tailored to my needs.

Nevertheless, I'm sharing this because it represents a challenging yet manageable level for me. During the final weeks leading up to my running training, I anticipate increasing the weight in my squat exercises, especially if I continue to feel particularly strong.

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Squats 3 sets 10 reps 145 pounds (barbell included)
Leg lifts 3 sets 20 reps -
Dumbbell presses 3 sets 20 reps 30 pounds
Lying dumbbell pullovers 3 sets 20 reps 30 pounds
Dumbbell rows 3 sets 20 reps 30 pounds
Bicep Curls (20 pounds) 3 sets 20 reps 20 pounds
Bicep Curls (30 pounds) 2 sets 10 reps 30 pounds
Tricep extensions 2 sets 15 reps 30 pounds
Inclined sit-ups (first set) 3 sets 20 reps -
Inclined sit-ups (second set) 2 sets 30 reps -
Medicine ball slam As many as possible in 30 seconds - 20 pounds
Jump rope 3 sets 1 minute -

This pre-training regimen will undergo significant changes once I begin my training runs, with a shifted focus towards core and upper body stability. However, the running itself will naturally strengthen my legs enough to handle the distance. Yoga remains the one unwavering element in my routine. Throughout all phases of training, I will continue practicing yoga, as it not only builds core strength but also aids in the recovery of recently stressed muscles and reduces inflammation throughout the body, particularly in the lower back and hips. In many respects, it addresses all the physical therapy exercises prescribed for my knee, wrist, elbow, and shoulder, encapsulating them into one comprehensive practice.

The Race Training

My race training regimen is derived from Inov-8's beginner 50-mile ultramarathon training program, though I anticipate making some adjustments based on my body's response to the Hill Repetitions. This approach contrasts with Hal Higdon's novice marathon training program I followed previously, which included a day of rest before the longest runs. That component is absent from this new plan, but despite the difficulty this will undoubtedly create during the initial weeks, I am confident my body will adapt.

All numbers are in miles.

Week Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
Week 1 Tues - 5 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill Reps - 5x2 mins hard Sat - 5 miles Sun - 10 miles
Week 2 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill Reps - 5x2.5 mins hard Sat - 5 miles Sun - 12 miles
Week 3 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill Reps - 5x3 mins hard Sat - 4 miles Sun - 14 miles
Week 4 Tues - 5 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill Reps - 4x2 mins hard Sat - 5 miles Sun - 12 miles
Week 5 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Tempo Run: 15m @ 3h pace Sat - 3 miles Sun - 16 miles
Week 6 Tues - 5 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill fartlek: 20m Sat - 6 miles Sun - 4-5 miles hike
Week 7 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Temp run: 20m @ 3h Sat - 4 miles Sun - 18 miles
Week 8 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill fartlek: 25m Sat - 7 miles Sun - 6-7 miles hike
Week 9 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill Reps - 5x1 + 3 mile + 15m@3h tempo Sat - 5 miles Sun - 20 miles
Week 10 Tues - 5 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - 4 miles Sat - 6 miles Sun - 10 miles
Week 11 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill alts - 20m Sat - 4 miles Sun - 22 miles
Week 12 Tues - 5 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - 2x Tempo run: 15m split by easy 5 miles Sat - 7 miles Sun - 6-7 miles hike
Week 13 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Hill alts - 25 min Sat - 3 miles Sun - 25 miles
Week 14 Tues - 5 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - 2x Tempo run: 20m split by easy 5 miles Sat - 6 miles Sun - 12 miles
Week 15 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - Relaxed Surges* Sat - 4 miles Sun - 7 miles
Week 16 Tues - 4 miles Weds - 3 miles Thurs - 3 miles Sat - 2 miles Sun - Race

Throughout this training journey, I'm looking forward to sharing updates on my progress, including the challenges I face, my recovery strategies, and the stunning vistas I'll encounter along the way. A highlight, for sure, will be attaching GoPros to my cattle dogs to capture their view of the run and their weary owner "leading" the pack.

As part of this work and my promotion of it, I am fundraising for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. Recent personal losses have underscored the value of this training in keeping me connected to the joys of life, motivating me to extend the benefits of my efforts beyond my own health and self-esteem. Please consider supporting my effort through a donation of your choice to their program. You can make that donation through my Tiltify campaign.

If you like what you're reading, here's your chance to get more of it. I'll never send more than once per week, however notes get published here daily.

Until next time.