Ultra marathon training advices from Michael Irrgang
Many runners know Michael Irrgang as a former official of the Deutsche Ultramarathon-Vereinigung (DUV). His seminars offer experience and broadening of one’s horizons in terms of ultra marathon training all in one. He is an ultra runner out of passion who enjoys sharing his knowledge and experiences. Michael served as the so-called “100 Miles Coach” for the Berlin Wall Race 2013 and accompanied Berlin Wall Race beginners during their training for the competition. We talked to Michael about training and preparation.
A basic question: Is it in general possible to train specifically for a 100 mile race?
Of course, it is even recommended. Training is more than running. It also includes specific weight training or the trial and error of nutrition strategies as well as equipment, like shoes and socks. It is recommended to try out every critical component of the competition early on. For the running training, a solid preparation is required including night runs and load weeks with 160km. With the correct combination of 2 or 3 training units and the right nutrition prior, during, and after the training, the time efficiency can be increased. Everyone unsure how to design the running part can resort to the 24h training schedules on the DUV website.
Which rules of thumb are recommended to the participants during the preparation, and what should be avoided?
The design of the preparation phase of course relies on the runner’s current capabilities, experience, and objective. Maybe even on the readiness to assume a risk. Particularly ultra runners who have never run more than 100km should not underestimate the distance. It does not only take twice the time of a 100km run, but one has to run at night and small problems can easily turn into big ones. It is very important to increase the distance of the training units continuously. During the preparation, two 100km runs are feasible. The kilometer volume is important, but the athletic training is not to be neglected, because reaching the finish line after 20 or 24h without injuries requires a decent body posture, specifically strong back and foot muscles. Most important is a healthy and optimistic start, so please do not try to make up for the omissions of the past months in the last two training weeks.
How many kilometers per week are recommended?
Even if many people with a marathon training of 40 to 60km per week are at the start and reach the finish, I believe more to be advisable. For a finish „without walking “ – which results in a finishing time of 20 to 24h depending on the pace – the requirements of the training are quite high. Two competitions of 100km or 12h during the preparation should ideally be planned. During training I suggest to add one long run every two weeks and stretch the distance from 40km to 80km. Speed workouts, either as tempo runs or repeats or hill workouts can easily be integrated into the training. With these training elements, further training stimulus and improvement can be introduced at low expenditure of time. Most runners will probably get along fine with a training scope of 100km during the load weeks and 50km during the regeneration weeks. However I suggest a „coverage week“ once a month during which one runs 100 miles in total. Five or six weeks prior to the run, this distance can be compressed to one weekend, i.e. run over three days. If this goes smoothly, one will have a good feeling about running the complete distance at once. „In three days“ means for instance running 30km on Friday, 80km on Saturday, and 50km on Sunday.
Training is one part of the preparation, another one is as generally known the mental aspect. What proportion does the „head“ take on during the „Mission Wall Race“?
That is a very difficult question. Let’s first focus on understanding the question. “Mental training” generally means simulating the competition situation in one’s mind. If I am aware that I will be insecure in the dark and thus run slower, or of how much I need to eat or how my feet will feel after 140km, I can design my running tactics or nutrition plan according to this. The better I can imagine possible negative scenarios, the better I can think of how to avoid these situations or ease the damage. If I assume that I will run slower in the second part of the race or walk part of the time, I will be less surprised or disappointed when it actually happens. But of course there are other mental aspects and capabilities like motivation, will, self-perception, or attention span. This particularly applies to the race, but all those points can be practiced during training. My advice is quite simple: Choose the right bicycle crew. There is nothing worse than feeling lonely in phases of hardship. A friend at your side can be helpful in many aspects: supplying, entertaining, distracting, motivating, giving directions, and more. For me, the planning of the competition and the generation of tension and anticipation are important mental aspects. With the decision to start and the registration, everything starts, followed by the planning of tactics, the equipment, and the support. Different aspects can be tried out during the training. This generates confidence about how to personally arrange the perfect race. With this in mind, I wish you the perfect preparation for a great challenge at the Berlin Wall Race.
Michael Irrgang was interviewed by Alexander von Uleniecki.