Living in the present
By Dana Stetson
For any long race, it’s important to remember there are two parts to training, the physical and the mental. The physical aspect is the most obvious. You must train to the point where you have the ability to cover the distance at the pace you have chosen. This is done by a series of drills involving at least three levels of speed.
You practice intervals, i.e. short, fast repeats. This allows you to develop the ability to have fast leg turnover. This is important in at least a couple of ways. You develop cardio strength. The heart is strengthened so that these periods of high intensity are possible and slower speeds are easily maintainable.
Another level of training speed is tempo runs which are longer but less intense. These are still run at a good hard pace. These allow you to further develop your push but under survivable conditions.
The third level of speed is long, slow distance. These runs are the ones where you can carry on a conversation with your fellow runners while you run for a very long time. These are measured in hours. All of these drills train your body to accommodate itself to the physical stresses a long event will place on it.
The other element of training for a long race is the mental side. The number one mental skill required for an ultra, or any long distance race, is patience. This is the ability to stay at this level of effort at a reasonable pace for long enough to finish the job.
No matter how fast you run a marathon or Ironman race you will be out there for a long, long time. You must learn to relax into your ideal pace or you are doomed from the start. You must let go of your “sprint boy” mentality.
While riding a bike for over 100 miles you must learn to watch the minutes while ignoring the hours. The present is where you must live. You must constantly review your minute by minute condition while never looking into the future or the past. “How far do I have to go?” is a question best left to others.
This living in the present is a skill slowly acquired. Each long practice adds a little more to your arsenal of patience. This is one of the major reasons for long; sometimes overdistance training. It seems that having conquered the distance before (especially recently) is a golden path to patience. So, when you can run, bike, and swim forever (sort of) without asking where you are, only then, will you have the patience necessary for the big ones. So go forth and sprint no more.