How to run 31 miles by training only two days a week: A guide to your first Ultramarathon

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I have to warn you, this is a slightly more unconventional method of training for a marathon or ultramarathon, than what you might be used to, or what most other people do.

I do not recommend this to someone who has never done strength training before, and would highly urge them to build a foundation of fitness first. I would suggest checking out the 360 Man Project Level 1 Fitness or 30 day workout program.

During the summer of 2017 I made up my mind to run a marathon. I had never run farther than a half-marathon (13.1 miles) before this point. I had done several sprint and Olympic triathlons too. When I ran the half-marathon it was two years before this moment. However, I typically ran 2-3 times a week for at least 3-6 miles. I ran the idea of running a marathon by my friend and training partner (Jonathan) at the time, and he said he was all in.

We were just going to run the marathon on our own, not enter a race. We thought they were too expensive and we could do the same thing without all the fanfare and people around. Jonathan and I like to do things to do them, not because we want accolades or because we need to be recognized. We like the mental game and the physical exhaustion that the body goes through.

Jonathan found us a marathon training plan to do, that only had us running two days a week. (You can view Hal Higdons Marathon 3 Plan here). The rest of the week we did strength training. More specifically, we did SEALFIT. The only rest day that we had was Sunday.

If you have never done SEALFIT, then you should know that it is similar to CrossFit. This book that we were using was called 8 weeks to SEALFIT by Mark Divine.

It is a mix of lifting weights, high intensity interval training, metabolic conditioning, and relentless mental and physical exhaustion. Guaranteed to make you a BEAST.

It is brutal, but fun. It was my third time going through the program, and Jonathans second time.


 
 

A typical SEALFIT workout is a lot like this:

Warmup:

  • ROM (Range of motion drills)
  • 400 m run
  • ROM (range of motion drills)
  • Work up to 10 RM (repetition max) of Back Squat

Strength:

  • Back Squat – 10 reps at -5% of 10 RM
  • Back Squat – 10 reps at -10% of 10 RM

Chipper:

  • Back Squat – 50 reps at 50% of 10 RM
  • Barbell Step-ups – 100 reps (use 18-24” box)
  • Buddy Carry – 800 m (if you don’t have a partner load a barbell up with 135# and walk with it)

Work Capacity: Complete for Time:

  • 30 Thrusters (75#/55#)
  • 3 rope climbs
  • 20 Thrusters (75#/55#)
  • 2 rope climbs
  • 10 Thrusters (75#/55#)
  • 1 rope climb

Durability:

  • 3 mile run at a moderate pace.
  • 3 rounds of:  20 weighted sit-ups (45#/25#), 20 back extensions

This type of training is mostly designed to be for special operations candidates but more and more people are getting into this type of training because it is Multi-modal and develops strength, conditioning, endurance, and stamina.

It is not for the faint of heart, but can be done by anyone. The trick is to not have an ego and if you can’t do some of the lifts at the prescribed weight, then it is OK to do them at a lower weight. The goal is to create humans that are strong and capable, not to create injury.

For instance, you will need to know your 1RM (or one repetition max). This is the most weight that you can lift, one time.

So if you can bench press 135 pounds only one time, then that is your 1RM.

You can determine your 1RM a couple of different ways.

  1. Pick a lift, for instance the bench press. Pick a weight that you think you can lift. Lift it once. If you can do it, add more weight, and then lift that weight, once. Continue like this until you hit a weight that you can’t lift once. The last weight that you did will be your 1RM
  2. Pick a weight that is challenging but doable, and that you think you might be able to lift 5-10 times in a row. Then lift it. If you are under 10 reps record them, and use this calculator to determine the 1RM. If you go over 10 repetitions then you need to go to a higher weight and do this again.

 

I found the key to avoiding all sorts of injuries that most runners get is to do strength training. (Resistance Training), and I am proof that it can be done at some of the highest intensities and under heavy Loads.

 

The Schedule:

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On Wednesday’s and Saturdays is when we would run. In the SEALFIT program, Wednesdays are the day that you do either a 30 minute swim, bike, ruck, or GrinderPT. Saturdays are meant for your challenge days or something high intensity without a lot of load, or weight lifting. That is why we chose to run those days. Sometimes we would run and get back to the gym and lift or swim anyway. I told you we were crazy and this is unconventional.

Week 1-8:

  • Day 1:
     
    • Squat, Thruster's, Lunges, Overhead Squats
  • Day 2:
    • Push Press, Push-ups, Rowing, 
  • Day 3:
     
    • Run/Swim (Medium pace or shorter distance)
  • Day 4:
     
    • Dead-lift, split-squats, lunges, pull-ups, barbell rows, Sumo High Dead Pulls
  • Day 5:
     
    • Bench Press, push-ups, alternating DB bench press, overhead weighted walking lunge
  • Day 6:
     
    • Run (long run)
  • Day 7:
    • Rest

After every almost every workout, we would sit in the sauna or the therapy pool and give our muscles a little bit of a rest. After that I would shower using only cold water (Enter the Spartan Shower). I learned this technique from Joel Runyon of IMPOSSIBLEHQ, he taught me how to do something impossible.

 

The Running

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During the week was the shorter runs (3-10 miles) and Saturdays were meant for the longer runs (8-20 miles).  We always worked out or ran at 4:15 or 4:30 am. This is called “The Art of Getting after it.”

After several weeks of running, we had to do some of the runs on our own because one of us had family stuff going on or were out of town on vacation or for work.

When we first ran 16 miles, I thought I was going to die. It was the longest that I had ever run. We were completely underprepared for fueling our bodies. All we had for 16 miles was our water bottle. We did not take in any sort of gels or energy bars. It showed, but somehow we gritted through it.

We learned a lot of lessons on that run, we started carrying gels, and we would strategically place Gatorade bottles at mile marker 15. The gels that I preferred were the Gatorade Prime Energy Chews.

I got massive blisters on my feet from the first time that I ran 16 miles. That was the farthest I had ever run. By this time we had logged over 100 miles for the month, and my shoes were falling apart, my knees were starting to hurt, so it was time to get new shoes.

I went to our local shoe store Daves Running, and got fitted. I ended up purchasing a pair of Hoka One One Clifton 3 Running Shoes

Running 16 miles was the hardest run, I think it was my breakthrough zone. Once I did it, I was able to do 18 and 20 with no problems. I never got blisters or pain in my feet or knees after that. I never got injured the whole time. I believe it was because of SEALFIT.

SEALFIT also has you run during the workouts, so sometimes my mileage would go over what it was supposed to be.

After the 8 weeks of SEALFIT was over, I joined a Wednesday running club, and also began going to a Fitness group called F3 (Fitness, Fellowship, Faith)

 

I really liked the running club and it helped me to start to learn how to run twice in the same day. I ran 3-4 miles with the running club even if I had ran 8-10 miles that same morning. What I found is that it kept my legs from tightening up. I ran these 3-4 miles at a much slower pace than I would run in the mornings.

I would also show up to F3, after having run 14-15 miles and do their workouts with them. It is amazing what the body can do as long as you teach your mind that it can do it. The mind is the most powerful thing that we have as humans. The older I get the more I realize this. If your mind can visualize you doing something, then you can achieve it.

The only thing is, we let fear control us. Fear is just a jealous, insecure person. It is overwhelmingly predictable even though it tries to control our lives.

 

The Ultramarathon

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August 12th was the date to run the marathon. During the middle of July, I found out that Jonathan would not be running the marathon with me. I had also decided that I wanted to make it about something much bigger. I didn’t want to just run a marathon to run a marathon. Lots of people run marathons for a lot of different reasons.

This was already a low key marathon, not a whole lot of people knew, and now it was going to be a solo marathon run.

I remembered a time when I was in Japan and I visited an orphanage. I was brokenhearted, and I wanted to raise awareness for a cause bigger than myself. I did some research online and found an organization called Orphans Aid International. I really liked their mission and what they were doing, so I set up a donation page and posted on all my social media sites and told some friends and co-workers about what I was doing.

We were able to raise almost $1500 for OAI. This is one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life, to know that I was able to inspire others to help out a cause that I was passionate about. I am still baffled by the generosity and willingness of people to give. It comes from places that you would never think it would.

Now, it was race time. The longest that I had run up to this point was 20 miles. I had heard that most people struggle at mile 22, and the body does some funky stuff.

I started my route at 4:30 am. My wife had made me two rice and bean burritos, something I learned from Scott Jurek in his book “Eat and Run”. I also had a sever Gatorade chews and some Luna Bars. I had stashed 2 Gatorade bottles the night before around mile 12 and mile 22, so they would be there when I needed some electrolytes and a little sugar boost.

The pack that I used for my food was a waist fanny pack with water bottle holder. This did the trick for me, and I never had any problems with it being there. It didn’t move or bounce around.

 

My first five miles went smooth, then as I was approaching 10 miles I got to see an amazing sunrise over the river. I got my Gatorade at 12 miles, it was perfect timing, and then I popped 2 gels. The next 7 miles was rolling hills. They were not steep hills just elevated enough to notice. At about 18 miles I hit a trail that ran parallel to the river. I would be on this for the rest of the way.

I had eaten one bean and rice burrito at mile 15, and had a bar and some gels around that distance too. I was concerned that something would happen to my body at 22 miles. I got to 20 miles and it was the farthest I had gone, so I wanted to see what my body was going to do. I was committed to 26.2 (marathon distance).

Once 22 miles hit, I only had to use the bathroom. My body felt great, I wasn’t sore at all or hurting. I ran 5 more miles and hit 27. I met a guy on the trail who was running the same pace as me. We talked a little but, he found out what I was doing and then he did 3 miles with me until 30. I was glad to have him run with me, he was a pacer of sorts and he kept my mind off of what I was enduring. I finished the last mile to meet my family and friend Larry at the providence Dam in Grand Rapids, Ohio.

Afterwards, I did some stretching. My legs and feet were a little sore, but I went about my day as if it was any other. I went to the zoo the next day and pulled my girls in the wagon. It was as if I hadn’t run a 50k.

I believe that it was because of the plan and the SEALFIT strength training that I was doing.

Here is a list of the 3 things that I learned running 31 miles (my first marathon and ultramarathon):

Life is a marathon, not a sprint:

Endurance events helped me to realize that life is about living in the moment, breathing deeply, and focusing on the simple things. Too often I find myself caught up in the business of life, thinking that I need to do a lot of things. It’s just not the truth.

Spending time with my family, actually being present with them, and doing the things that being me peace and happiness like reading and writing. That is what life is all about. Learning skills, making them better slowly over time, and enjoying the fruits of your labor. It’s an easier slower life. It means that I have to give up a lot of the things that most people do, like going to parties, eating out a lot, running around on the weekends. Those have lost their luster to me. I enjoy slow and steady. The tortoise always beats the hare.

Get a plan and stick with it:

Creating a plan is fun. Actually sticking to it, is hard. I like having a plan because then I don’t have to think about it. I already have way too many things to think about because my brain does not shut off. I have also found that plans are completely underestimated, and they hold so much power. When we have plans it frees us up to just do the work. All we have to do is stick to it.

Ever since I have made plans I have done the following things:

  • I lost 30# of fat and got in the best shape of my life
  • I started this website
  • Completed triathlons, 5k’s, 10k’s half marathons
  • Completed a marathon and a 50k (ultramarathon)
  • Paid off my debt ($55,000)
  • Completed a GoRuck Event
  • Learned how to do the Combat Swimmer Stroke
  • Taught myself HTML

There is a lot more that I have accomplished. Check out my 100 impossible lifetime goals.

Without a plan, I never would have done these things. I simply write down what I want to do, come up with a plan on how to get there. Then I take little steps every day to complete those goals. Then I stick to the plan.

Most of us like plans until it gets hard. Then we say things like:

  • We don’t “feel” like it
  • We had a rough day (we deserve a break)
  • Nobody cares, it’s just one day
  • I’ll get back at it tomorrow
  • Everything in moderation, I don’t want to be one of those people.

 

In other words, we let outside forces (people, time, life), get in the way of us accomplishing our goals. This is where the rubber meets the road, and determines whether you want something bad enough. I assure you that the more you simplify your life, the more fulfilled and passionate you will be about achieving your goals. You will start comparing your life to your goals, rather than to someone else’s.

You can do way more than you think is possible:

The thought of running 31 miles boggled my mind when I first thought about it, but something that is planted in your heart, mind and soul is hard to get rid of. When things like that come up in my life, I can’t ignore them. I started this website because it was something that was growing inside of me that needed to get out. I ran 31 miles because it started inside of me. When things start growing inside of me, I have to let them out, I have to make sure that they come to fruition.

Most of the time these things seem impossible. It is overwhelming to think about. However, if we do the planning and the baby steps to work towards those goals, or ideas, or inner desires, we will be transformed. The transformation begins in the mind. You have to start believing that you can do something. Then you start to visualize it. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time daydreaming and thinking.

Once you think it and visualize yourself doing it or being a part of it, then you can start doing something to bring you closer to it. Once that happens there begins to be a momentum shift. At that point, you realize that you can do anything with this process. It’s no trick, secret, or gimmick. It is simply reality. Your mind is your greatest weapon, and anything is possible.

If you like what you are reading, and you want to activate your inner warrior, create goals, get in great shape, and learn to grow and continuously improve as a man (or woman). Then join the 360 Man Project.

In the meantime, check out the 360 Man Call to action, and the 360 Man Project Rules.

Stephen

photo credit: Zach.Pierce via photopin (license)