"I have this crazy notion in my head that the 100K is more similar to the 5K, from a training standpoint, than the marathon," Pat Russell, who won a 5K last weekend and will race a 100K this weekend told DtB.
"My reasoning is that marathon training relies heavily on threshold and race pace workouts. If you think about it, how often are you running at threshold during an ultra? If you're running smart you shouldn't be."
"The primary concern [in a 100K] is being as efficient/economical as possible," the 2007 Human Race 8K and last weekend's Get Your Rear in Gear 5K champ explained. "Running economy comes from 200s, 400s, up to mile repeats and the like. Short hill repeats as well. So according to my totally unfounded, purely anecdotal theory that is probably way off base, a 100K runner should be able to run pretty well at the shorter distances."
Russell knows whereof he speaks. Along with his infra-marathon success on the roads this season and prior, Russell is a two-time member of the USA 100K team, finishing 16th at the World Cup in 2005. His short-race success, he hopes, will augur success in the USA 100K Championship held in conjunction with the Mad City 100K on Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin.
"Of course the ultimate irony is that I started running ultras because I was a little tired with the workout grind," Russell allowed. "The difficulty doesn't come so much in the training, but more the choosing races aspect. Training-wise I don't do anything fundamentally different than I did prior to running ultras, besides upping my long run time/distance. However, I'm much more prone to over-racing since."
Russell knows that after the challenge of the 100K this weekend, he'll still have manage a fully-schedule racing schedule centered on the USATF-Minnesota Team Circuit where he competes on the GEAR Running Store team.
"I will run the 100K champs on April 7," he said, "then we have Get in Gear, New Prague and Brian Kraft in April and May. Now, since I need to recover after the 100K, my good judgement tells me I shouldn't run Get in Gear or New Prague and Brian Kraft probably won't be a great effort. But when April 28 rolls around and I live four blocks from Minnehaha Park, its going to be pretty hard not to run [Get in Gear]. And if I run, I will run hard. That's a given."
Despite the elements that need to combine for successful short-distance racing and for ultras, Russell keeps things simple.
"As I alluded to above, running is running is running is running," he said. "I don't think there is anything as far as workouts that make training for a 100K substantially different, from say a 5k or a marathon. Of course, the one exception would be the monthly or bi-monthly long run. Or as I differentiate it when I'm mapping out my training, the long long run. For me that is 3.5 - 4.5 hours. But now I'm wondering if even going that far is necessary."
"I read that Matt Carpentar's longest run before he smashed the Leadville 100 record by hours was 30 miles," Russell continued. "That's not much, relative to the distance he was racing. I'm toying with the idea of making my longest run, say, 3 hours, but try to increase the distance I cover in that time. As with a lot of things in life, there is more than one path to the same goal.
"Perhaps the most important reason for doing the long run, at least for newbie, is to practice taking food and fluids on the run. Its such a highly individual thing, that it takes some trial and error. I've seen people go through aid stations topping off on their water bottle and washing down a gel as they run through. Others treat it like a buffet. For me, simple is better: gels, pretzels, Ritz crackers and sports drink. I might have some fruit snacks if I'm having a good day."
Russell isn't one to over-think 100K racing tactics either, as he looks ahead to MadCity.
"Well, since this is going to be a relatively deep race, by US ultra standards, it will be important not to be too aggressive with regards to the competition," he said. "There is the old adage, "Don't run someone else's race" which is doubly true in ultras."
"That was the mistake I made at the World Cup last year. I got in the pack with the leaders and was resolved to staying there come hell or high water. The results speak for themselves -- 31st in 7:43. There are no points for brashness."
"So, for myself, the key from a mental standpoint will be to treat this like a long run and focus on my own little universe. There are a lot of ups and downs over the last half of a 100K -- first half too, if you're having a bad day. It requires a lot of mental tenacity to will yourself to keep going, even when you know you're slowing down. That is the primary reason that a faster runner at shorter distances isn't always the fastest runner in ultras. How you handle the pain and monotony of the last half is the biggest factor in how you finish."
Track Pat's lead-up to the 100K -- and his return to racing afterward -- at his The Unforgiving Minute blog.