Part 1: Reframe Your Mind for the Distance
To complete an ultramarathon, you must first train for the distance. This requires putting in time and effort. The adage “pay the cost to be the boss” rings true.
This doesn’t mean training your butt off to the point of exhaustion. Slugging it out mile after mile. That’s a foolish pursuit.
Big brands have planted that cancerous seed in your mind. Sports advertisers make MAJOR money promoting “no pain, no gain.” campaigns. This flawed thinking is easy to market.
Here are some of the biggest offenders…
Pushing through pain is the surest way to burnout. Or worse…
No wonder a staggering 65% percent of runners get injured every year. To quote the hyperlinked article “No Pain, No Gain? Think Again”:
Runner 1: “I hate running. Every part of my body hurts.”
Runner 2: “I know. I feel so much better when I walk but I’m afraid I’ll end up looking like my mother if I don’t run.”
Runner 1: “I feel great when I walk too. Nothing hurts. When I run, my knees hurt, my hips hurt, my back hurts, everything hurts.”
When you upgrade from this mindset, your approach to training will be more potent. Training should make your body should feel rejuvenated. A liveliness that enhances all aspects of your life.
Most notably, increased work productivity, spending quality time with family, and better sleep.
These aspects are fueled by energy. Long sustainable energy. Not midday crashes. No falling asleep at the computer screen…
“Energy, I need more of that!”
Let’s break down how the body makes energy…
Here’s a simplified version of how the process works. It’s a Youtube video from ThinkStrong (awesome channel by the way!).
This video is a perquisite. Don’t continue until you’ve watched it. It sums up the energy-creation process perfectly.
Ok, let’s dig deeper…
Aerobic & Anaerobic Muscles
There are two basic muscle types responsible for movement. These muscle types are your aerobic and anaerobic systems. Though they both work in unison, their roles are different.
Aerobic, or “slow-twitch” muscles, are composed of organelles called mitochondria. Within your mitochondria, lives myoglobin. Through the movement of myoglobin within your mitochondria, oxygen is converted into energy.
For events lasting longer than 3 minutes, your body’s primary system for generating movement is your aerobic system.
That means ultramarathon success is rooted in developing your aerobic system.
Fun Fact: When primed, your aerobic ability holds the power to outlast a horse. Take that Mr. Ed!
Your Anaerobic system houses “fast-twitch” muscles. They are your go-to muscles for powerful movements like breakaway speed, lifting, or kicking at the end of a race. This system gains its energy through the process of converting glycogen into glucose (sugar).
Your anaerobic systems source of fuel is sugar. It’s burning potential is capped at 2,000 kcal of energy. This equates to 3 minutes worth of all-out-energy. Though useful, tap it out too soon and you bonk, hit the wall, go bye-bye!
Speaking of bonking…
I sure as hell have been there. Here’s me at mile 85 at the 2016 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon. Not only was it hot (132 Fahrenheit that day), I had completely taxed my anaerobic system. No fun. None at all!
On the other hand, your aerobic system harnesses its power by burning fat. Upwards of 75,000 kcal of energy available, which can efficiently propel even the leanest athlete for over 24 hours!
Let that sink in…
To quote The Big Book of Endurance and Training by Dr. Phil Maffetone, found on page 51:
“Herein lies the endurance game; as the time of your activity increases, more fat and aerobic energy must be generated. But as the intensity increases, less oxygen is delivered for fat burning, so aerobic metabolism is diminished, forcing the body to use more anaerobic energy, which is very limited.”
Wait there’s more…
Along with enhancing endurance, the aerobic system provides a HUGE additive bonus: It builds our health.
From Maffetone’s The Endurance Handbook, page 35:
“In addition to long-term stamina for optimal performance, the aerobic system provides us with an important bonus: it builds our health.
Aerobic muscle fibers support the physical body, helping to maintain muscle balance for stability, and create an optimal gait for better movement economy.
In short, the aerobic system can literally correct and prevent mechanical injuries like a therapist. This allows our joints, bones, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and other soft tissues to function most effectively. A better functioning body is the result.”
Point blank. If you want to become an ultra running beast you have to cultivate your aerobic system. Its role is crucial. Its benefits cannot be overlooked.
Let’s switch gears a bit. Time for some results.
This is when things start to become game-changing 🙂
- “No pain, no gain” is dead! This is a cancerous marketing tactic that threatens life-term health.
- You use the majority of aerobic “slow twitch” muscles for events lasting longer than 3 minutes.
- You use the majority of anaerobic “fast twitch” muscles for short powerful movement. Think kicking at the end of a race.
- The aerobic system’s source of fuel is fat
- Ultramarathon success is rooted in developing your aerobic system.