In Which Granny Runs an Ultra

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. ~T. S. Elliot

The Idea

When I began running almost 5 years ago, the idea of doing a marathon would not fit inside my head. I didn’t even have a clear enough picture of what it would mean to be properly terrified. It was like contemplating astrophysics. I had no hook to hang it on. But as I slowly built mileage, I began to flirt with the idea of a half-marathon. Still daunting, but possibly attainable. Once I had three of those in the bag, I discovered I could think about a marathon without my head hurting. And so it began…

I vividly remember those mystical Saturdays when one week after another I ran distances I had never run before. It was like magic. Sometimes I looked down at my feet in awe. I could hardly believe they were sill moving. In between the running, I read about running. Books like Ultra-marathon Man and Born to Run began to seduce me with a new challenge: The ULTRA. An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a marathon; from a 5ok (31 miles) to obscene distances well in excess of 100 miles. Last year I decided to use 2010 to make a go at a Boston qualifying time, and designated 2011 the year of the ultra. Little did I imagine then the irony that I would attempt my first ultra in the same year I became a grandmother.

The Event

I have researched events off and on for over a year. I ultimately settled on the Grand Teton Ultra for three reasons. It is beautiful. I know myself. If I am going to be on my feet all day, I want my eyes to be filled with wonder. It’s a trail event. Piling up mileage can be hard on the joints. Especially for old people like me. πŸ˜‰ Trail surfaces, though challenging, will give my joints a break. It has a relatively generous time limit. I am strong but not fast. Even though choosing Grand Teton means running at altitude plus a vertical gain (and loss) of 10,000 feet, it is worth it to have more time to finish.

Unfortunately, the time limit for the 50 mile event has been shortened this year from 23 hours to 17 hours because they are doing away with the 100 miler that used to keep aid stations open. As a result, I have not yet decided whether I will still attempt the 50 miler or back down to the 50k. Either way, it will be a new and significant challenge.

The Training

So what does ultra-marathon training look like…for a grandma? πŸ˜‰ Ultra runners are a breed of their own. Training is widely individual. Some runners log 120 plus miles a week in training. Others do one long run and some cross training. In between are a myriad of options. Here is what it will look like for me:

  • A tandem long run on Friday and Saturday. This is a popular approach. A long run followed by a moderately long run teaches your legs to run while fatigued, but with less stress than one super long run. These will begin the first week in May with a 12 mile followed by a 6 mile and build quickly to peak in August with 26 and 10.
  • On Sunday I will stretch, do yoga, or walk for recovery.
  • Monday through Wednesday I will primarily cross-train, though I may sometimes work in a moderate run of 6-10 miles. Cross-training will consist of plyometrics, core work, swimming, biking, kenpo, weight-training and yoga. Cross-training is crucial for trail running because balancing, jumping and hurdling creeks require a whole complex of muscles. Equally important is the fact that cross-training allows for conditioning without piling more stress on the joints.
  • Thursday will be a rest day in preparation for the tandem run.

Like everything else in my life, I will live this out here. Feel free to follow along if you like.

P.S. I use the term granny because it makes for an ironic title. However, I do not intend to be called granny by my grandchildren–or by anyone else if you know what’s good for you! πŸ™‚