I could feel the adrenaline running through my veins. I was going to do it. I would sign up for the race I set my sights on after rekindling my passion for running in 2020. I would run 215 miles across Scotland.
I didn’t know what to expect and much less about how to train for it.
Even though I studied ultrarunning by reading books, articles, and forums. I got certified as an ultrarunning coach as well. In theory, I knew what it takes to tackle an ultra.
In practice, I had been running ultras for only 2 years and had 5 races under my belt. My longest run was the Berlin Wall 100-mile race, which I finished in 22 hours.
However, encouraged by my body’s resilience and spurred on by a hunger for adventure, I decided a 200-mile race would be the next step in my running evolution.
And as a trip to the USA is outside my budget, and there are no 200-mile races in Germany (yet), I decided to sign up for the Race Across Scotland 2023.
The Race Across Scotland is a 215 – mile (346 km) race following the coast-to-coast “Southern Upland Way.” It is a single-stage race, which means you cover the distance in one go and decide when to move and when to rest. This is different from a stage race, where you have a fixed distance to cover each day and get to sleep during the night.
So how do you train for such an enormous challenge?
It seems that no one really knows. Too much can happen over such a distance. Non-running factors, such as mental strength, planning and execution of the race plan, and fatigue resistance, play a much more significant role than in marathons or even shorter ultras.
However, that does not mean you shouldn’t think about training theory and how to prepare for such an event optimally.
Certain basic principles of endurance and ultramarathon training still apply, and you must factor those in when creating a plan for yourself. This article lays out the principles of my training for the 215-mile race.
The training plan and its components are based on my individual strengths and weaknesses as a runner and my theoretical and practical ultramarathon knowledge. You may find some of it useful for your own training. And if you would like to get more specific and tailored coaching, please contact me here.
So without further ado, let’s dive in 😎.
Building a solid aerobic base
Building endurance takes time and consistency. I am fortunate that I haven’t been injured once since I started my ultrarunning journey in 2021. And until November 2022, I trained consistently without any long breaks.
However, I significantly reduced my volume in November and December 2021 due to gut inflammation and catching a cold several times.
As of January 2023, I am in the process of building up running volume again. My body handles high mileage well, and I have run up to 180 km/ week in 2022.
However, I am now including more strength training again and likely won’t push running mileage that high. Instead, I focus on being a strong athlete that can endure the rigors of moving all day to cover more than 200 miles over rugged terrain.
To build the necessary stamina, I will include day hikes and multi-day hikes, as well as back-to-back running weekends, in my plan.
Another fun format I enjoyed in 2022 is to go for a long run in the morning, refuel and shower and then head out for a bike tour with my girlfriend.
I will also include speed work because raising your aerobic threshold (via speed training) improves all other endurance components. When you are fast, running at a slower pace feels comparatively easier than when you are a slow runner.
Or put another way: Let’s say your leisurely run pace is 6:10 min/km. Then running consistently at 06:20 min/km will feel more challenging than if your easy pace were 05:00 min/km.
However, I don’t follow a specific protocol.
Instead, I include strides a couple of times a week and hill sprints every other week. Tempo runs and fast finish long runs round out the picture on weeks I have plenty of time to recover.
I believe my 5 years of consistent strength training are the main reason I stayed injury free despite racking up the volume quite quickly after returning to running in 2021. I primarily train with kettlebells and body weight. Sometimes I pick up a pair of dumbells or a barbell to spice things up.
In 2021 I dropped strength training because running took up my free time. At the end of 2022, I trained with kettlebells again and put in more strength training sessions.
However, I might reduce it again if my body signals that I am overwhelming it with training.
Dialing in nutrition and training the gut
Race day nutrition is my biggest weakness. I never practiced race-day nutrition and was severely under-fueled in all my races in 2021 and 2022.
For example, during my first 100-mile race – the Berlin Wall Ultramarathon – I had 2 cups of coke, 2 cups of lemonade, and 5 or 6 dried dates. One pack of trail butter was all I had for breakfast before the start. And while my result was not bad for a first 100-miler, I am confident that I could have run even better had I fueled adequately.
Unfortunately, I often forget to fuel during my runs… .
However, my goal is to have something before or during each run and to practice race day nutrition during my long runs. I have experimented with gels and whole foods and have found that I do well with honey and dried dates. Tailwind works very well for me too.
However, I am far from knowing what my body can handle over longer distances.
Being mentally strong is vital when you want to do well on race day. You need to anticipate that you will hurt and be exhausted at some point. And you need to be willing to continue.
I did fight hard for my 3rd place finish in my first ultramarathon, I did fight hard for my 2nd place age group in the 24-hour German Championships, and I did fight hard for my sub-24-hour finish at my first 160-mile race.
Before each race, I expected that it would hurt.
So when the pain set in, I was mentally prepared for it.
However, I have never run long distances on very little sleep. The new environment and travel stress might also take a toll on my body and mind if I don’t prepare for it.
As I cannot travel to Scotland beforehand and test the route, I am watching Youtube videos of the trail and reading travel documentaries about hiking the Southern Upland Way.
I will also experiment with different sleep protocols and visualization techniques over the following months to optimize my mind for this adventure. What-if scenarios will be played out during long training runs, lists will be written, and nutritional strategies devised.
It will be a huge adventure long before the starting gun goes off on August 12th, 2023 😁.