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How I Trained To Podium At A Spartan Ultra

Just because I did it this way, doesn't mean you have to. But if you're interested in finding out what it took (as I assume you are since you clicked on the article), then here it is!

I spent 17 weeks preparing for the 2019 Spartan Ultra in Mill Spring, NC. There were other races in between (Spartan North American Championship, Savage Race & Savage Blitz, and a regular Spartan Super & Sprint weekend). My goal was the Ultra in NC, so although I was going to do my best at those races, they weren't my main goal. I did podium at both Savages and took 8th at the Super, and 4th at Sprint. The NAC was not as good. Anyway, back to the ultra.

Over the course of about 17 weeks, I put in almost exactly 500 miles of running. Those miles were spread out over non-technical and non-hilly grass trails, hilly gravel roads, and technical mountain trails. I don't have the specific mileage breakdown for how much of each...that would take far too long to calculate.

My short runs were 3.4 to 6 miles, moderate distances were anywhere between 6 and 10 miles, and my long runs ranged from 10 to 25 miles. I had done a trail Ultra (35 miles) earlier in 2019, so I had some solid training put into that, and I'd run a marathon or two as training runs, so I knew I could handle the distance well.

During those 500 miles of training, I accumulated about 38,000ft of vertical gain. Now, the Mill Spring Ultra isn't on super mountainous terrain, so I perhaps didn't NEED that level of elevation training. However, it was about training my body to much greater stresses than the race would create so that I would perform at a very high level on race day. Mountain running also builds strong legs for running, which matters a lot.

I did an unrecorded number of strength training and mobility workouts through the course of those 17 weeks as well. Mainly work with a weight vest doing pullups and chin ups and pushups and lunges. I did a lot of work on the TRX as well. Suffice to say, there was a lot of other training. I don't typically record those workouts though, so I don't have specific numbers; it was a lot. I always train to never fail obstacles.

The programming, while not insanely difficult since I've been doing programming for years, took a lot of balance. Because I was scaling up distance while still maintaining a solid base of resistance/strength training, things had to be scheduled properly. I couldn't have back-to-back super long runs and expect to be recovered for strength training work the next day. As often as possible, I'd separate days between runs on flat trails and runs on much hillier terrain. Running up and down mountains is far more stressful on the body than on flat/mostly flat ground. I also needed to split up overall stress and spread it out as much as possible so that recovery wouldn't be slowed down and I wouldn't run into any injuries. Thankfully, I was able to balance it all out very well and no injuries or set-backs occurred.

The majority of my run training was done in heart rate Zone 2. For me, that was between 144 and 151 bpm. When I'd hit the technical, steep mountain trails, I'd just go by feel and ignore the HR monitor. But I'd say that about 70%-75% of my training was Zone 2.

My final big/important training run leading up to the event was 25 miles on trails with 7,000ft of elevation gain. Once I did that, I knew I was set and ready to compete at the Ultra.

For those who remember, the race was a miserable one. It was wet and cold all the way through. Hills became mud slides, and lots of people were pulled off course with hypothermia or pre-hypothermic symptoms.

I did hit the podium, which was my one and only goal for those 17 weeks. I took 3rd place after more than 6 hours. It was an amazing experience, and a painful one. I'd totally do it again. Scratch that, I'm back at training for more Ultras as you read this.


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Jan 01, 2022

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