How An Average Joe Trained For An Ultra-marathon

Written by Will Teng

My goal is to run a 100km ultra-marathon this year, so I set out to train and eat strategically.

I live in Taipei, where the wellness industry is still in its infancy. This means that eating right takes a bit more effort compared to cities where juice stands, organic grocery stores or vegan restaurants abound.

I also really don’t like to cook, which means I eat out regularly, and local dining is not known for its health benefits. While my diet has vastly improved, I still occasionally eat junk food.

I wouldn’t have called myself a serious runner before December 2011. I had a few marathons under my belt, but had never trained properly and my results were average at best.

I’m not a nutritionist or fitness trainer, just a health enthusiast who reads a lot and would like to learn more.

Below is what I did in 2012 to prepare to run an ultramarathon this year. Many baby steps, experimenting and regressions.

1. I ate a healthy breakfast. 

There are no healthy restaurants near my office, which made eating well for lunch and dinner during the week difficult. Therefore I made sure that I always start my day by putting in good stuff: lemon water, green smoothies and fruit.

2. I incorporated superfoods into my diet. 

Some are a bit pricy, so I used to save them for prior to running events only. Additionally, I was a bit worried about “overdosing” on superfoods. Last year I gradually incorporated them to my regular diet:

  • Chia in green tea 3-4 times a week
  • Spirulina powder in green smoothies twice a week
  • Cacao and hot water on weekends after long runs
  • Egg fried quinoa seasoned with turmeric, curry, cumin and other spices

3. I built up my running base.

There is no way around it, putting in the mileage is a must. Most training plans I read suggested that if a person is able to complete a marathon in 5 hours, 6 months should be plenty to train for a 100km.

I gradually built up my base – 40km per week in January, then 50km in March then 60km and 70km (I did not adhere to the 10% rule for weekly distance increase). By December 2012, I was running up to 100km weekly. On average, I ran 60km a week.

4. I ran mountains and trails. 

Most of my long base runs are done on mountains and trails. Nothing beats the gorgeous scenery, fresh air and uneven surfaces and steep climbs to strengthen core muscles. Taipei is one of those rare places that offer modern city convenience as well as Mother Nature at its finest. You can start off with a cup of Joe at a trendy coffee shop, then an hour later be deep in the woods being attacked by a wild pig. (True story.)

5. I did one big endurance race per month. 

Throughout 2012, I ran 3 trail races, 6 marathons, 4 ultra marathons between 50-65km and a triathlon. It really helped me stay on track by having these mini goals and checkpoints.

6. I did treadmill workouts. 

I despise running on treadmills, but Taipei gets a lot of rain, so some indoor running is inevitable. I made these workouts short but I made them count, which means high-intensity intervals. Here is an example:

  • moderate speed for 2 minutes (9-10km/hr)
  • increase inclination to 5% for 2 minutes
  • lower inclination to 0% and recover for 1 minute
  • do 5-8 sets and play around with speed and inclination for high intensity segments.
  • cool down run for 1-2 minutes.

7. I found the discipline to eat right. 

For three weeks in October I found the discipline to eat right. It began with a friend deciding not to drink for a couple of months, so in support, I didn’t drink for almost 3 weeks as well. Meanwhile, my daily diet consisted of:

  • Breakfast: Lemon water, green smoothies and fruit
  • When I get to the office: Green tea with chia
  • Mid-morning snacks: Mixed nuts or steamed sweet potato,
  • Lunch: a typical dish would be stir-fried quinoa with egg and flavored with turmeric and an assortment of spices and steamed vegetables. Sometimes with chicken and different kinds of mushrooms.
  • Afternoon snack: Fruit or mixed seeds
  • Dinner: Oatmeal, and usually before 630pm. (I slipped a few evenings for sure)
  • Weekends: my wife would make different tasty dishes with wholefoods and lots of vegetables.

Prior to October, I was already running a lot, but I hardly lost weight and fat due to my undisciplined diet. During the month, my body got lean and running improved by leaps and bounds. I am 5 feet 9 inches tall. I was 160 pounds in January 2012 and now 150 pounds.

8. I quit social smoking. 

I was not a real smoker but had been a social smoker for 15 years. Had my last cigarette in early February, and never looked back. Never was addicted to tobacco, so the habit was extra pointless in the first place.

9. I drank responsibly. 

I had limited drinking to weekends for years, but still tend to overdrink at times. I finally found a balance to truly enjoy a few drinks instead of depending on alcohol to have fun. I’m now very mindful with my drinking during special occasions, because one slip up would put me back to square one. Becoming more aware of and comfortable with who I am really helped in this department.

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