Now that I have a goal, to complete my first ultra marathon (52.4 miles) on July 29, 2012 in San Francisco, I have to start planning. Yes, I have to plan how I'm going to travel there, where I will stay, who will watch my girls, and how I will pay for this whole venture. But I'm not talking about planning the logistics of the actual race. I'm talking about planning how I will train myself to get to a point where I can be confident that I can get myself to the finish line. Official training for the ultra is suggested to begin in March, but I prefer to gear myself up so it's not such a burden on my body when I begin the formal training.
Planning isn't just about figure out what days I will go out for a run. I took the time to do research online to find suggested training plans. Training plans usually include the number of days you should train in a week, as well as the number of miles for each training day. Ultra training is a bit different from half marathons or marathons because the focus is primarily on the number of miles or time spent running. Usually in a training plan you have a day where you have speed training or an occasional hill training. Not with ultra training. It's about getting your body ready for the endurance and getting those miles in.
I found a few plans and they were all pretty similar so I chose one that would work best for me. Now, I'm not a fan of cookie cutter anything, so I took that plan and made it my own. I work full time and have a family, which includes 2 daughters in daycare. I studied the plan and tried to determine what, if anything, I needed to change in the plan to make it work for me. If there is one piece of advice I would give you is YOUR PLAN SHOULD BE REALISTIC. One that you know you will be able to follow. Life happens and you may miss a day of training here or there, but for the most part you should be able to follow the plan. If the plan has 5 days a week and you know that it will be extremely difficult to commit to that every week, then adjust the plan to 3 days a week and adjust the miles. If you find there is a week you can get an extra run in, great!
I love running, but I don't want running to be the only type of fitness I do. Most ultra plans seemed to fill your days will running. So what I did was change the plan to work for me. I simply took a low mileage day and turned it into a cross training day...for me that means Spin. I may not be getting those miles in, but I'm still getting the aerobic training in. Those days may be scheduled for Spin, but there is nothing prohibiting me from getting a run in if I have the energy or the time to do so.
No matter what you end goal is or what finish line you dream of crossing, make a plan. Take the time to do research to find suggested approaches, determine what you are looking for in your "training", figure out the amount of time you can realistically commit to, and write it down. Preparation is just as important as the actual event. Take the time...it's worth the investment. I promise.