Sunday, November 15, 2015

Low-mileage ultra theory

In 2011 and 2012, I made running a priority. Now it’s not. That’s ok. It’s a conscious decision. I’m doing some other things now that matter more to me than ultra-running.

But I love running. And I miss the competitive landscape. I’ve been running since I was 11. I hit my athletic peak at age 14, when I ran a 5:09 mile and 2:18 half mile. I was decent in high school and then a non-factor in college. I lost the competitive drive in my 20s. I ballooned to 220 pounds and thought I’d never be a real runner again.

But even then, I ran. Not far or fast. Only ten miles a week, maybe. But I ran.

And in 2008, when a high school running buddy bet me that he would run the Leadville 100, I said I’d do the same.

Four years later, I ran and finished the thing. 

That summer, I quit my law job and lived in the mountains, camping in the open air and playing in the mountains. It was great. But that’s not my life now.

My life’s totally different today. Instead of having no work, I have my own law firm with employees and lots of clients. On the side, I’m a co-founder of two startups in the process of raising capital and trying to get traction in the market. The demands on my time don’t stop. It’s ok. I like it. But it’s hardly conducive to running ultras.

Or is it?

I’m a fan of this guy. And I’m always trying to figure out ways to cut the fat. I always wonder if there’s a way to get what I want in less time – to get more efficient. I like to look at processes through the lens of the Pareto principle, which says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In sales, 80% of revenue might come from 20% of your clients. In playing guitar, 80% of the ability could be acquired in 20% the time. Or so the theory goes.

Does this apply to ultra-running? Or, asked differently, what’s the minimum amount of running you could do to be a decent ultra-runner?

I’ve seen lots of sites dedicated to people who do low-mileage ultras. And I know it’s possible to finish an ultra, even a 100, on low mileage. But I don’t want to just finish. I want to be reasonably competitive.

I’m not so foolish as to believe that I can maximize my ultra-running capacity by running only 4-8 hours a week. But could I be decent? Could I be big-buckle fast (or the non-Leadville equivalent) on an average of 5 hours a week? Could I finish in the top 20% of the field, on a minimal training regiment?

I don’t know. But I’m half inclined to find out.

So here is my plan:

(All times in minutes)

For a minimum of 12 weeks

Week 1

Tuesday – 60 w/ 30 minutes on treadmill, max incline
Wednesday – 30 (80 if you have time)
Friday – 180-300
Sunday – 80

Week 2

Tuesday 60 – high intensity
Wednesday – 30 (80 if you have time)
Friday – 80
Sunday – 80 w/ threshold run


There’s one additional component: Six weeks and four weeks before the race, run back-to-back 180-300-minute days.

That’s it.

This plan requires eleven long runs, plus thirty or so runs of 80 minutes or more.
I think how you allocate time in running is more important than the total running time allocated. One 80-minute run would be worth 10 30-minute runs. One 180-minute run worth five 80-minute runs. Or so my theory goes.

Plus, from the busy-person perspective, fewer runs means less time getting ready for and cleaned up after runs.

I think I could be decent with this much training. Still, the question might be moot. Because with me, there’s a secondary question in whether I can even set aside this much time.

Is it enough?

To be continued…


  1. Should there be another persuasive post you can share next time, I’ll be surely waiting for it. Siro Yarn

  2. Nice. How did your race and training go?

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