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Relentless Forward Progress

Three years ago at a local half-marathon Bryon Powell was standing in the line for the portajohn near me. We chatted and discovered a common acquaintance as well as a common interest in ultrarunning. Powell is elite in that field. He has long managed a helpful web site and now he has published a book: Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons. It's full of solid, well-written advice on all aspects of the sport. For starters, in Chapter 2 ("The Building Blocks of Ultramarathon Training") he boils the entire enterprise down to a primary factor:

There is perhaps no better predictor of ultramarathon success than total training volume. Make consistent, significant mileage a primary goal throughout your ultramarathon training, along with logging your long runs. You don't want to overdo it, but one of the best ways to run better at any race length, and especially in ultras, is to run more.

Powell goes on to explain that the pace of runs during training is relatively unimportant, but that there is a floor of weekly mileage to aim for:

On the low-mileage end, it would be beneficial, or at least make for a better experience, if you were running at least 35 to 40 miles per week before attempting an ultramarathon. Regular weekly tallies around 50 miles often lead to strong, comfortable ultra finishes. If you log upwards of eight weeks near 70 miles per week, you'll be in top form and, if you've had success at other distances, will likely be competitive at many ultras. As for running 100 miles or more per week, very few ultrarunners do so, and many of them are the very best in the sport.

Excellent counsel, which Powell then follows by cautioning about the risks of injury, especially when ramping up one's mileage abruptly. And there's the need for balance in life:

... the broad message to remember is that, despite their utility, logging massive miles should not be done at the expense of your physical or mental health. If you need to take a few days off to heal from a minor injury or illness, do so. If the combination of your training and other obligations has you on the brink of collapse, analyze all your obligations and determine which need to be pared. If that includes cutting your weekly mileage by 10 or 20 miles for a week or two, but being better rested, less stressed, and happier, then you and your running might very well benefit in the long term from a short recovery period. Take care of yourself and make relentless forward progress.

RFP includes thoughtful commentary by other ultrarunners. Geoff Roes (in "The Need for Speed?: Why Speed Training Is Unnecessary for Ultramarathons") observes:

How, then, do you prepare your body (and mind) to race well for a full 50 or 100 miles? There are a lot of potential answers to this question, but, in my mind, the most important one is to let go of the idea that we need to focus in our training on improving our leg speed. Racing 50 or 100 miles is about strength and endurance. It's about nutrition and hydration. It's about patience, stubbornness, and determination. It's about a lot of things, but it's really not much about leg speed. ...

Later in that same chapter Powell underscores the need for balance:

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a frequent cause of fatigue and burnout in the ultrarunning community. As you become aware that you're capable of running vast distances, especially through gorgeous locales or with new and interesting running companions, you may continually add outings and events to indulge your physiological, spiritual, and social desires. While such desires are wonderful motivators, FOMO can leave you taking on additional events without consideration of training benefit or adequate consideration of physiological cost.

If you find yourself unable to decline invitations for a group run, you might have FOMO. If you're unable to resist signing up for every race, you might have FOMO. If you miss a holiday meal to run, you might have FOMO. Beware of FOMO.

Moderation in all things — including ultrarunnning ...

(cf. AndThenTheVultureEatsYou, OnceARunner, PerfectMile, RunningThroughTheWall, Why We Run, ...) - ^z - 2011-06-13