#9 Speed Training for Ultras
Following on from earlier in the series of articles we talked about specificity and training planning along with mileage. Let's jump straight to it....
Initially, your ultra running performance will probably NOT be limited by your speed, you'll be busy making mistakes with nutrition and getting lost along with having a picnic at each checkpoint like I did. There are a couple of factors that come in to play, your running economy, your conditioning, your stamina, mental toughness etc.
Once you've built a bit of experience making some mistakes and practicing different strategies (or learned from someone else's mistakes) you'll be able to keep your body fueled and you'll be finishing some ultras mid pack perhaps in the top half. You'll eventually hit a plateau from just running more. To really make a difference in your ultra running times let's consider this
What are the chances of running at your 10k pb pace for a 30 mile ultra? Much less 50 mile or 100! Exactly....Nobody in an ultra race is 'sprinting' EVEN the 'fast ones'. Every runner is running this at a relatively low intensity compared to their 10k pb pace.
So you do get some variances, some people can maintain a higher % of their maximum effort or heart rate for longer than others but, if someone can run flat out for 10k and it takes them 60 mins they are going to be going a lot slower than this when they run 30 miles.
If this runner improves their speed though, so that they can run 10k now in 50 mins instead of 1 hour then slowing down to run a 60 min 10km pace (or 10 min mile roughly) is going to be much more comfortable and therefore be able to go much further at this pace.
When I started running I couldn't run 10k but I built up to it and then eventually I managed to run quicker than 1 hour. So that was a 10 min mile pace.... Now I can run 10km at about 5.30 min mile pace sooooooo..... Slowing down to 7 minute miles for me feels fairly comfortable. With a proper training plan I'm now able to run under 7 min miles for 50 miles. If I never improved my speed much from starting running this would be impossible as I couldn't even run 1 mile this quick when I first started.
If we take someone who can run a 30 min 10k which is about 5 minute mile.... a 6 minute mile is going to feel fairly comfortable, a 10 minute mile is going to feel like an uncomfortable shuffle.
Bottom line, speed is still a factor in ultra running and shouldn't be neglected, it might not be a prime focus year round every single week but it should certainly feature during some of your training phases.