The back to back long run is a stable of ultra-runners. The idea behind it is twofold. First, to teach your body to recover faster, and second, to learn to run tired and/or sore.
If your body can recover more quickly, it’s stronger and can run for longer periods of time. You know your body is getting stronger because you no longer gets sore from running a twenty- five or thirty mile run. It’s actually pretty interesting to experience. The human body is amazing at adapting to the stress we place on it.
For those of you who have been running a while, do you remember being sore after a three mile run? I do. I began running inside in the winter. My legs ached after my first run. I had to take two days rest before running again.
For all the beginning runners, be encouraged it gets easier as your body adapts. You can help it along by eating healthy, taking a multi vitamin, getting enough sleep, and resting between run days. Everyone is different on how quickly their body adapts, so don’t get discouraged if your running partner is ready to go after a day and you have to take two days.
Learning to run on tired and/or sore legs is an essential skill for ultra-runners. During an ultra, especially the 100 mile, your legs are going to get tired and probably sore. You will ache and you will need to push through it. The only way to get through this mental challenge (aka wall) is to practice it. By running a 30 mile run one day and then a 20 mile the very next day, you will get this opportunity. It’s hard and it’s a balance.
Running on tired legs can lead to falling and potential injury. You have to build your miles slowly, ten percent a week increases, just like you did when you first started running.
Overcoming the mental piece of it is the key to pushing through the wall. You need to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your electrolytes balanced, stay hydrated, and fuel your body. These things keep your cognitive abilities from declining during a 100. They also keep your mood up. Pushing through a difficult section of the race while in a terrible mood makes the ordeal three times more difficult.
The other piece is having a game plan. Knowing you have run on tired legs in the past is a huge boost to your confidence in doing it during a race. Positive mental encouragement and affirmation of your ability is also very helpful. Counter every negative thought before it can take root and slow you down.
The physical component is to running tired is to run with your arms. Pump your arms and your legs will follow—it’s just what they do.
And remember: If it hurts to run and it hurts to walk, run.