Wednesday, February 13, 2013

LSD in Ultra Training

Just a short post. I'm reading Brad Hudson's book, Run Faster, which is awesome! For some reason, his book has gotten me to thinking about long, slow distance training, aka LSD, for ultras (which, by the way, is not the topic of his book). Everyone talks about the merits of specificity in training, and yet many ultra runners out there (like me) do tons of quality fast stuff when training for the 100-mile distance.

If you're training for a sub-3 hour marathon, then you need to run lots of miles at your goal pace, which is around 6:50. If you don't train a lot at goal pace, your body's not going to be ready for the demands of a hard 26.2 miles and you're likely going to fall short.

Looking at ultras, if your goal is 20 hours in a 100-miler, then that breaks down to 12-minute miles. With aid station and bathroom stops factored in, we'll say your running pace is around 11:30/mile (the other 30 seconds/mile is for the stops). So, in the name of specificity, doesn't it make sense to spend a lot of time training in that zone (10-11:30/mile)? If your goal is a 20-hour, does it make sense to run fast tempos and hammer it around a track, which don't equate to your ultra goal pace and only raise your injury risk?

I've always favored quality in my ultra training, but I continue to think about better ways to skin the cat that is the 100-mile distance, like tons and tons of miles near goal pace. This post isn't to suggest that quality for ultra training is bad; it might be the ticket. This post is just intended to express some thoughts I have and maybe get a dialogue going.


  1. If you were run that 20 hour run, how many of those miles would be at that average?

  2. 20 hour run for 100 miles breaks down to 12:00/mile. There'd be some variation in pace, of course. Your pace is going to slow a bit as the race progresses, and it's going to slow a bit on big, big climbs. But I wonder if you'd be super efficient for the whole distance if you trained a ton at 10-11 minute pace. Why does specificity apply to marathons and not to ultras? That is the question. And this is spoken from a guy who runs around the track while training for 100s. I'm now starting to think it's not working for me.

  3. If you are subscribing to specificity, then how many miles would you do below 12 minute pace, how fast would those miles be? Any sevens? How slow would the slowest be? When would those miles come?

    I think there are answers to your questions in my questions - and you already know these answers.

  4. GZ: I'm not saying it's the way. I'm just asking questions. If 11s are needed to run a 20-hr. in a 100 (that extra 1 min. is for stops, so we won't factor it into pace), then why not train as much as possible near that pace? Seems to me that's specificity?


  5. I doubt the top runners do this. You think Skaggs ever trained at 15 minute per mile pace while getting ready for Hardrock? Think Matt was slogging out ten minute miles (or whatever the pace would be) for Leadville?

    I always run 10 or 11 minutes per mile and can't come close to 20 at Pb.

  6. What JT said. Mike Morton can do 8 minute miles for 100 miles. I can guarantee you he is not doing 8-9 minute miles in his workouts.

    Also, think about the course. While you may average 12 minute miles, its a wide variation of spending hours walking up hills and spending hours doing 8-10 minute miles running down hills.

    I think where you may be going wrong here (if I may be so bold to say that...I am not an expert on this subject) is the specificity of the specificity. Meaning, when training for a marathon, you're doing near marathon length runs at near marathon speed. So I think your analogy would only make sense if you were doing 70 mile training runs at 12 minute miles to prepare for a 100 mile run of the same pace.

  7. My point is that your statement about being specific is perhaps flawed. I am willing to wager that few miles in Leadville 20 hour finishers are done at a 11-12 minute pace. I am sure some are, but bet most are not.

    The principles that Hudson puts forth in his book are great, but were meant up to the marathon, and have not been proven at the 100 distance yet. The best marathon performances come on a.) courses that are uniform (e.g. no Hope Pass) and so b.) there is little difference in the pacing (4:45 miles for the elite men). In other words - there is a consistent course and so specificity in training is of greater benefit.

    Additionally ... the marathon ALLOWS this sort of specificity of training. You can train 15, 18, 22 miles at race specific paces (as you build). This represents a specificity of training at over 50% of the race distance. The benefit there is clear.

    However doing this for the 100 would mean you need to do those 12 minute miles (or whatever they actually are) for 60 mile training runs. Sure, there would be a benefit but the risk and cost associated with that is significant.

    As Brownie mentions, look at MC's Pb prep. Or Nick Clark. Or Sage Canaday. Or Max King (okay those last two have yet to a 100). Or KJ. Or Dave Mackey. On and on.

    Of course, the benefits of speedwork are well established regardless of the longer distance: improved aerobic threshold, running economy, improved lactate processing, etc.

    I am willing to bet that you would not employ a training approach of this sort of specificity. Would you have 90 percent of your training be at 11 minute pace?

  8. I think about this a lot. Part of my LSD runs is to spend the long hours on my legs and feet and get my body used to it. Some training I think should at least be long and at goal pace. For me LSD is more about spend as long as possible out there.

  9. I am not an expert, but I think the problem with this approach is likely due to the fact that if you run 2-3 hours at 11 min pace you are not going to do much to stimulate fitness growth. So those runs will do little to actually help towards reaching the final goal. This approach might work if you regularly did long runs, and thus actually got some stimulus effect. Probably not feasible unless you have 6+ hours a day to run.

  10. The two distances for training purposes don't compare (other than the basic running motion). You would have to do 85 mile runs at 11 min pace if it were a direct correlation to what you're saying. Even that really doesn't fit.

    Specificity takes on a different meaning when considering mountain 100 milers.

  11. If there's a chance that we will run the same race, and assuming we're both in the masters category, I think you should exclusively train at an 11-minute pace.

  12. This is a great coversation. I do want to point out a few things:

    Some of the names being mentioned on here are legends. They're not regular guys like many of us are. Brownie, my understanding is that Kyle spent months training on the HR course. That's not exactly a fast course. I do know that Kyle could fly on the downs, so he obviously did some fast stuff.

    Second, there are some great runners who do LSD. My understanding is that Geoff Roes, who has decent natural speed, did a lot of long, slow distance.

    Third, if one's goal is 20 hours in a 100, then what goal pace should one train for? Or is there no goal pace? Does it really make sense to go out at 8:00 pace in a 100 when you're fresh, only to find yourself at 13:00 pace at mile 80? Is there a better way to conserve your energy for the full distance?

    I believe it's possible to run every step of a 100 if you run it smartly, and I think pacing is a huge part of that.

    Finally, I have yet to find a definitive guide to 100-mile training. If there is one, I haven't found it yet. So it's good to throw ideas out there, try new things, etc.


  13. I saw Geoff on the trails on occasion when he was still training competitively. It was not at 11 pace. It was more like in the six range. Of course that was down, and I bet he needed that for the downs at Western.

    There is NO definitive guide for the 100. In fact in reading Hudson's book, you know he talks quite a bit about tailoring training appropriately to your event, strengths and weaknesses. I would add to tailor it to what is realistic as a 40 something father husband.

    As there is more similarity in road marathon to road marathon, you are going to get more of a "definitive" guide for those. But the 100? Look at the differences in the races ... some on the track, some on mountains, some at altitude, some with huge descents, etc. Then because of the distance you add in the variability of the stomach ... well, that is why there is no definitive guide, but instead definitive principles that you tailor to your considerations.

    If you are looking for anything definitive, I think you look at many of the Pb pace charts that have been put up there in the past, and jump on the course to dial those sections in at those paces. There will be specificity for ya.

  14. "Third, if one's goal is 20 hours in a 100, then what goal pace should one train for?"
    100 miles / a 20 hour finish -pace. (from Ron Obvious).

    The best way to guarantee such a finish is to do 30 miles on that course at that pace, then 40, then 80, then 90 miles.

    If you don't have the time or interest in that (or you don't want to kill yourself), then you can simulate the exhaustion as best you can, like running 20-30 miles one day, followed by another 20-30 miles the next day. Week after week, or every other week.

  15. Wyatt -
    This is a good conversation and it is great reading everyone's comments.

    I think two factors contribute to significant differences in ultra training and marathon training, both have been pointed out here. The obvious one is just distance. You can run hard for 20 miles (roughly 76% of the marathon distance) and still have a decent shot at recovery. Even a non-elite can do that. Good luck to the weekend warrior that tries to run 76 simulated miles for Leadville within 4 - 6 weeks of the race. You can't recover.

    The other factor is just straight fatigue. At some point, your mind just starts firing off danger signals. No matter how fit you are, running for 15 - 25 hours brings a whole new element that a marathon doesn't.

    One last thought. I think specificity is more than pace. How do you properly train for the altitude and other course elements? Or what about being awake when your body knows you should be sleeping? How about the temperature on race day (which can be from 30 - 80 in one day )? Or adapting to eating gels and power bars when you are normally eating real meals? You are probably getting specificity each time you race. But it just takes years to accumulate instead of one training cycle.


  16. specificity would be training at 12:00 miles for a much longer run than most people do in training. generally, i don't think many 100 milers do 75 mile runs during their training cycles... if you were to do that, 12 min pace would be a good idea. but since you're probably going to be doing 30-40 mile runs, crank the pace up a bit to ensure you're getting the most out of those miles... hard to gauge what your pace for them should be, but as long as you can finish and still hit your training run the next day, you're not running too fast... and if you feel excellent at the end, like you left too much out there, run faster!

  17. Last year I ran 70+mi weeks at 10-11minute pace... why? because I can't run faster! No way could I come close to even finishing Pb let alone doing well.

  18. Agree with what most are saying. I'll also start with disagreeing with this premise:
    "If you're training for a sub-3 hour marathon, then you need to run lots of miles at your goal pace, which is around 6:50. If you don't train a lot at goal pace, your body's not going to be ready for the demands of a hard 26.2 miles and you're likely going to fall short."

    Most plans and runners I know of do the vast minority (less than 20%) of running miles right @MP.
    There's also no reason to expect the training to "scale," with 5k runners training from 70-100% mpw of a marathoner; and "elite" ultramarathoners training less mpw than professional marathoners.

    You're right, people have vastly different approaches to 100M training. But the similarity, mentioned several times above, is deciding your constraints and maximizing the workouts in the time you're willing to run. Given 10-20 hours, get in those 3 hard workouts a week surrounded by easier runs, stressing multiple physiological systems, balanced with recovery == training effect.

  19. AJ and Brett make good points regarding specificity: if you really wanted to focus on that (and, again, I'm arguing that marathon training and 5k training rarely run the exact race paces), you could argue that extra stress from harder, non-specific workouts (hills, tempos, intervals, speedwork, higher elevation, weightlifting) builds in more fatigue for "easy" runs, and is thereby more specific to the fatigue and exhaustion of a much longer race.

    Or another way: shorter, faster, hillier workouts are poor man's LSD. (When you're poor on "extra time" which is most of us).