The dreaded "m" word: 10 reasons you should incorporate racing marathons into your ultra training schedule.
Here in Florida and all across the country, many ultrarunners thumb their noses at the very thought of running a marathon, as if the 26.2-mile distance is somehow "beneath" them, now that they are "mighty" ultrarunners. And the vitriol works the other way as well: many who race marathons see ultras as a haven for those who simply cannot "cut it" and throw down a fast marathon time.
That debate -- as well as any debate regarding "distance superiority" -- is silly and a waste of time. For you distance snobs, let's just agree that Usain Bolt and Joe Fejes (current top "6-day" runner in the world) are the two best runners in the world. (Those "distance superiority" arguments, taken to their logical conclusions: if you're in the "shorter is better" crowd, Bolt has to be your man; if the opposite, it's got to be Joe, right?)
Personally, I just like being a "runner." Specifically, I race more ultras and marathons than anything else. But running is running, and giving your best effort at any distance is really, really, really hard. (For my money, I think racing a mile is just about the hardest and most painful thing you can do in the world of running...)
At any rate, for this article, I am assuming that most of you are ultrarunners who want to do as well as you can in your races. If that is your goal, you should really consider racing a marathon (or two) as part of your build-up to your next ultra. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. it's a 26.2-mile tempo run.
If you are planning a 50- or 100-mile race this spring, why not work in a good, hard 3-5 hour effort over 26.2 miles as one of your "hard" training runs? If you can sustain a hard pace for 26 miles, my guess is that you will be better equipped to run 50 or 100 miles at 2-min/mile slower than your marathon pace, and do so better someone who just trains by doing all of his or her training runs at "ultra race pace" or slower. For your ultra, you want your race pace to feel like you are walking (or at least putting forth minimal effort . . . if the first 25 miles don't feel super-easy you are going way too fast!) What better way to ensure that goal is reached than to run races where you actually do run those first 25-26 miles at a much-faster pace?
(Want to compete for the conch shell at the Keys? Start running fast in training...)
Take the Keys 50 as an example. One of my runners is making his ultra debut there this spring. He's a 2:50 marathoner (about 6:30/mi). The men's record for the race is 6:55, which is about 8:20/mile for the 50 miles. Who would you place your money on to win this year's race? A guy who does all of his training runs at 8-9 min/mile, or the guy that can run a marathon in 6:30/mile? Assuming all other factors are relatively-equal (weekly mileage, experienced crews, solid race plan, etc), it really is not even a close call. (And if you don't believe me, come to the Keys this May and find out...) :)
2. "Train fast to run fast."
You do not have to be in contention to win the Keys 50 or 100 to really benefit from running a marathon or two before your big race. Along the same lines as the last point, the more miles you can run (while training intelligently, of course) at faster than race pace during training, the more comfortable/sustainable that race pace will be during your ultra.
I know what some of you are thinking: "Well, I'm running a 100-miler. I just don't see how racing a marathon will help me; 100 miles is just too long of a distance for there to be any benefit to running a fast (for me) marathon."
Well, Joe Fejes, who last year ran 580.3 miles in a nonstop 6-day race in Alaska (seriously, that's not a misprint), disagrees with you. He firmly believes in the "train fast to run fast" philosophy . . . even for super-long races like a 6-day race, where he would never even approach his marathon pace.
(If this guy believes in racing marathons, so should you...)
It's not just Joe: all of the top super-long distance runners adhere to this philosophy. Current World 24-hour champion Jon Olsen routinely races marathons leading up to his 24-hour races. Current top-ranked 24-hour runner "American Harvey Lewis is a 2:46 marathoner. Aly Venti, who last year ran the third-fastest 100-miler ever on American soil, is "sub-3" in the marathon. They all recognize that a sustained hard effort for a few hours is excellent training for an ultra.
3. Your spouse/significant other will thank you.
Yes, I know: your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/f*ck buddy/whatever is "super supportive" of your ultra running, and he or she just loves spending the entire weekend sitting at an ultra in the middle of nowhere filling up your bottles, hearing you whine incessantly, and staying overnight getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, just to hear nonstop "Gassy Bambi" fart jokes (inside joke for anyone unfortunate enough to be at Ancient Oaks last month between the hours of 1-5 am) :)
(Note: Bambi may or not "really" have a gas issue. She may have just been sitting on a squeaky chair that sounded a lot like farts every time she moved. The jury is still out on the issue...)
Despite your significant others' undying love and enthusiasm for ultras, I'll let you in on a little secret: while they love and support you, it gets really fricking boring to sit an ultra for 20-30 hours. Do them a favor every once in a while: mix it up and just take up a few hours on a Sunday morning and run a marathon instead of an ultra every other weekend. Marathons are far more "democratic" when it comes to deciding how the weekend hours are spent :)
("Ultras are boring. Besides that, they're fascist. Run some more marathons. They're more democratic.")
4. you won't see this guy at an ultra:
"Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: life." ―Bill Bowerman
“I'm struck by how pitiful and pointless this little container called me is, what a lame, shabby being I am. I feel like everything I've ever done in life has been a total waste.” ―Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
2. of chasers and chasees
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up; it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.” ―Christopher McDougall
"I only run when I'm being chased. Heh heh heh!" ―Every non-runner in America
3. everyone's (seemingly) favorite subject
4. the spirit of the marathon
5. front-running (aka "peacocking" in ultras)
"I don't want to win unless I know I've done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken-shit." ―Steve Prefontaine
"Slow and steady wins the race." ―The Tortoise and the Hare. Also attributed to lots of people who have won ultras, as well as no one ever who has won a 10k :)
"The best pace is a suicide pace. And today is a good day to die." ―Steve Prefontaine
6. the indomiTible "spirit/Insanity" of running
"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves…The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable." ―Roger Bannister
"Running is stupid." ―Frank McCabe
"If God invented marathons to keep people from doing anything more stupid, the triathlon must have taken Him completely by surprise." ―P.Z. Pearce
7. The secret to effective training
"Thrust against pain. Pain is the purifier. Walk toward suffering. Love suffering. Embrace it." ―Percy Cerutty
9. the role of crews/pacers in ultras
"I don't think jogging is healthy, especially morning jogging. If morning joggers knew how tempting they looked to morning motorists, they would stay home and do sit-ups." ―Rita Rudner
"The difference between a jogger and a runner is a race entry fee." ―George Sheehan
"I believe that the Good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I'm damned if I'm going to use up mine running up and down a street." ―Neil Armstrong on jogging, in an interview with Walter Cronkite
"Oops . . . I almost forgot. I won't be able to make it fellas. Veronica and I trying this new fad called uh, jogging. I believe it's 'jogging' or 'yogging'. it might be a soft 'j'. I'm not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It's supposed to be wild." ―Ron Burgundy
11. go get 'em
For this weekend, a special "good luck" to everyone running the Miami Marathon, including Team Zwitty runners Lauren Hadley, Jodi Weiss, Sandy McCallum, Bonnie Collins, Melanie Papatestes, Mike Holt, and Nick Garcia!
Hi, welcome to the Zwitty Ultra Endurance Coaching Program!