How do you train for a 240 mile race?
The short answer is: You can’t.
The long answer is much more complicated. And it’s full of a LOT of unknowns. I read up on every bit of training theory on multi-day runs, watched a couple documentaries on 200’s and followed the Moab 240 Facebook group to glean some wisdom from previous finishers. Then I thought long and hard about what kind of experience I wanted to have leading up to the biggest race of my life and very quickly decided that there was no one right way to do this and I was just going to enjoy the journey.
What was my ultimate goal with training? Get to the start line feeling happy and healthy.
I’m just a few days away from toeing the line and am so happy to report that I’ve done exactly that.
Getting ready for this race has been years in the making, ever since we spent a few days in Moab on the way to run Rim2Rim2Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was enamored with the Mars-like landscape and wild canyons and of course had to Google “Trail Races in Moab”. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when Moab 240 came up. I knew immediately where I wanted to set my sights.
At the time I was training for my first 100 miler at Sinister 7 in 2019 and lacked the confidence needed to even think about something as big as 240. But as I sat at the finish line at Sinister looking at my newly earned belt buckle I asked myself if I could turn around and do another 100 miles. My answer was an unwavering yes.
Moab up next.
We all know there was a lot about the next few seasons that didn’t go as planned. And although I technically got into the race for 2021 off the waitlist, it was only a few weeks before the race and I wasn’t even sure how covid regulations would impact my trip so I passed up the spot and hoped to get in on the lottery for 2022. I did a couple more 100 mile (plus) distances and lots of high volume and was pumped to get in for this year.
I settled on a training plan that felt very manageable, and similar to what I had used for training for 100 milers. High volume is important to get your body adapted to the high stress needed for race day, but pushing too far has diminishing returns. Eventually you spend more time trying to recover from big training efforts and you are no longer building your capacity, and may even be overtraining. I liked that this plan had a few big days and weeks built in, but that overall I just needed to be consistent and stay
healthy. There was also a lot of flexibility within each day for how long I should plan to run, dependent on recovery needs and time constraints, which meant that some weekdays days, if all that I got in was a 6k, instead of a 16k, that was ok, at least I got out. Most days I aimed for the big number on the plan, but it was also really important to me to recognize that the body doesn’t count miles, it counts overall stress. And with a full time job, three kids (with their own busy schedules), a masters degree (nearly done), race directing Run On, co-leading Trail Sisters, and a cute dog that demands snuggles, I have plenty of other things to juggle on top of training.
I worked in a few races and big mountain days during my training to make the journey more interesting and because I love getting out with my incredible run family. I also had to somehow work in a five week hiatus to my training right when I should’ve been building, thanks to another once in a lifetime journey this summer with our 35 day road trip across Canada in Van-nessa. (Worth it!)
So, how did it look? How do we answer the unanswerable question about how to train for a 240 mile race?
I averaged about 100km weeks of running, and aimed for 1500-2000m elevation gain. My peak weeks took me closer to 150km and maxed at 4000m elevation gain. I worked in one speed session per week to build aerobic capacity, and had one or two days a week with double runs to build volume, which was pretty easy to do thanks to shorter runs with my son’s afterschool run club and 5-7km Thursday sessions leading Trail Sisters. I cross train with road biking, either on the trainer in winter or bike commuting
when I can once the snow clears. While I still maintain strength sessions as best I can, I generally struggle to find the time for weight training when I’m already spending so much time running. So instead, I focused on mini-strength sessions throughout my day with things like lunges after a run or a couple sets of core or upper body before bed.
My longest run this training session was 100km at Klondike Ultra in June, but I made sure to build on that by following up with a 120km bike in Banff the next day to simulate long days on tired legs without burning out with high impact.
I also had plenty of big back to backs, like Iron Legs Mountain Race on Saturday followed by leading a Trail Sisters mountain summit on Sunday.
Or Assiniboine Pass followed by a brutal road run early the next morning.
The best simulation for a multi-day was at Golden Ultra Stage Race which had me feeling faster and better with each day of the race and was a nice peak to my training for Moab.
While my training plan was 20 weeks on paper, my actual training has been going on for years. Muscle and cardio strength can develop quickly but soft tissue strength is a much slower process. The body needs a long time to adapt to withstand high volume without suffering soft tissue injury. Thanks to years of consistency and bit of good luck, I have avoided injury leading up to this race and have generally maintained good energy levels. I say ‘generally’ because I did struggle with loss of my period and fatigue at times last year, however a couple diet and lifestyle changes helped me get my period back and have kept my energy levels high throughout these last six months.
But enough about training theory and numbers. As always, I’m far more interested in the other side of this ridiculous sport called ultra running. Or in the case of Moab, mega-ultra-ridiculous-can’teven-wrap-my-head-around-that-distance-‘running’. The enormity of 240-miles is mind-blowing to me even though I am the strongest I have ever been. As I pour over the race manual and study the map, I can hardly fathom how I will hit Shay Mountain Aid Station at 120miles (193km) at my longest distance
yet, and will only be half way done the race.
I will likely see four sunrises, maybe even five.
Will climb the equivalent elevation gain of Mount Everest (8800m) and cover the distance from
Edmonton to Canmore (383km). I will go 12 or more hours between seeing my crew and will encounter weather conditions ranging from blistering exposure in the desert basin (hitting 30’C) to snow and extreme storms in the La Sal Mountains (as low as -7’C). All while carrying minimum 3L of water, and a few pounds of food, clothes and safety gear on my back.
There is a reason the race manual says “This is an Endurance Run, not a race. As such this is not considered a competitive event, but rather a life accomplishment”.
And it’s way to much to think about all at once. Whenever I do, it all feels too overwhelming. And that is where the psychological side of this training comes in. It is too easy to let self-doubt swallow you whole. I guarantee that every single racer that will stand at that start line on Friday
morning will struggle with imposter syndrome. Who am I to think that I can do this? I’m not some elite athlete, I’m just some soccer mom that likes to run. Easy to think I have no business being there. That is just one of the many lies I combat every time I think of the magnitude of 240 miles.
Instead of giving into self-doubt, I am choosing strategies that strengthen me and will propel me forward. A lot of those strategies require the acceptance of dichotomies.
I worked hard for this and deserve to be there.
AND this is an incredible privilege I am not worthy of.
I am strong.
AND I am devastatingly fragile against these harsh elements.
I can choose an attitude that rises above the discomforts of the moment
AND its gonna hurt like hell and be a constant battle to ignore the pain.
I choose to remain curious, humble and embrace each stage of the journey.
AND I need to be vigilant and aggressively solve problems as they arise.
I will enjoy the beauty in the people and scenery around me.
AND I will want it to end so I can be done and return to comfort.
Other strategies are to break it down to make sections feel more manageable. That may require thinking of the race in chunks, breaking it down by days, sections with pacers, or between aid stations. Or even smaller if needed and tackling each kilometer, distance between trees or even by seconds. Like Amy Alain said, ‘you can do anything hard for 60 seconds’ The crazy thing is, time passes at the same rate whether I am sitting on my couch watching Netflix or if I am running 383km. I can go without the Netflix, but I don’t want to miss a thing out there on the trail.
The strategy that is already bringing me the most joy, and I am certain will carry me through some dark hours, is the incredible support around me. In addition to the messages and encouragement from friends who may think I’m crazy, but still think its cool, I have a phenomenal team joining me.
This would not happen without them.
I don’t even think I fully asked Nolan, he just unhesitatingly said yes when I said I could use some help for the hardest section of the course. An accomplished runner himself, the timing felt right in his life to join us to experience an event like this.
I didn’t formally asked Denise either, she was just always a given. Unwavering in her
commitment to the sport and her friendships, I know she is 100% dependable and the perfect companion for a long time on the trail.
And of course, Tania, cause it would be weird to go on an adventure without her. Even though this is a huge ask from her, and for her support system that fills in for her, she seems so excited to be joining and I know she is exactly who I want out there with me for the experience.
Holding all this together is Kirk, crew chief and rockstar husband that has not only been fully supportive of my training, he is now taking the time out of his newly (and unexpectedly) rearranged life to get me there and take charge of the incredibly difficult job of keeping me held together and moving forward.
This definitely wouldn’t have happened without him. Thanks hun 🥰
The best part is that we are planning to have him pace me for the last section, about 30km to the finish line. It will be at an agonizingly slow pace. But together we will shuffle to the finish line where my kids and parents will be waiting. This is their race too, they’ve all put in work and sacrifice to support me to get here and they all get sweaty hugs even though they will squirm away and tell me I smell terrible.
I can never be ready. Another dichotomy.
I’m excited. I’m terrified.
At peace. A bundle of nerves.
It’s kinda like those days towards the end of your pregnancy, where all that hard work of pregnancy is behind you, and although there is so much unknown ahead, you are ready to get on with things cause you know the journey is going to be amazing.
I wanted to write this ‘before’ because I know that once its all over, I will see everything so differently.
Those days in the desert will change me. Kinda like how becoming a parent changes you. Parenting is far more incredible, and far more difficult then you could ever begin to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I suspect running 240 miles will be a similar experience
Yep. I’ll leave it at that.