Posted by: Dean Hebert | December 2, 2008

Training: How do you train for a Transamerica Trek; is it safe?

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

We received the following very interesting inquiry from a reader named Katie. In fact, we’ve been hearing more and more from runners that are attempting cross-country treks or even round-the-world runs. Another of our runners is going to run from the Canada to Mexico next spring. Here is the question and Coach Dean’s answer:

My name is Katie and I am running across the USA, from Boston to San Diego, starting this coming March! I have solicited the advice from many people (coaches, runners, past transAmerican runners), and my question still remains – I am planning to cover 100 miles a week for 8 months (80 run 20 walk or so). I am running 30 miles a week now and have averaged 30-50 miles a week for the past 5 years (I ran in HS and college). I have only been injured once in 11 years (tendinitis). What are the short and long term health effects of 100 miles/week for 8 months? Am I seriously putting my health in danger? How do I mitigate the damage? Also, how would you advise my training plan between now and mid March?

What a fun and challenging adventure! You’re right, there’s not much on this topic out there for you to read. There is a study out there I read a year ago or so that measured physiological changes for ultra runners. They did find elevated enzymes similar to those found in heart attack victims. However, they did not find heart damage. I chalk it up to chemistry reactions in bodies enduring extensive or intensive physical workouts. They were fit as a fiddle before, after, and during their ultras.

100 miles a week for elite marathoners is routine. So, unless you have an underlying disease, as far as thinking about some kind of health damage I think you’re fine. Your years of decent mileage (30-50 mile weeks) actually lays a nice foundation for you. Now, the pounding and possible injuries will be pretty high with higher mileage (but these are at least not life threatening or permanent in most cases). And the fact that you don’t have a history of lots of injuries – the number one predictor of incurring more injuries – is great! But, be reassured that your mileage is safely achievable. The fact that you will walk some enhances your success chances too.

I will offer a twist to what you will be doing. You will gain fitness all along your journey. So, since this is not a race, you should view this as an extension of your training. Your fitness goal between now and March is totally endurance. Over about 70 miles per week you will improve your running efficiency (VO2max) only negligibly. But, what you will do is further strengthen muscles and connective tissue… THAT is critical for you, because that is what will minimize your possibilities of injuries.

You should continue to add miles to your longest run of the week. Get up to doing as much as even 25-30 miles with some walking. Then take a couple days off for recovery. If you gradually increase your weekly mileage to 70s-80s you’ll be pretty well prepared to undertake this endeavor.

Your fueling and refueling plan will play a critical role in your success. With constant stress on your body you’ll need to take special care to feed it and hydrate it. If not, you will deteriorate all along the way and once again increase opportunities for injuries.

You may want to read some books by those who’ve done similar runs. I’ve read “My Run Across America” by Don Shepherd (TAFNEWS Press 1970) and Marvin Rothenstein’s “Mileage Unlimited” (TAFNEWS PRess 1972) who ran a marathon a day for a year may give you some insights. “Ultramarathon” by James Shapiro, (Bantam Books 1980) will lend some history and perspective on ultra-marathoning. These are older books and may be out of print. There are other personal stories out there on ultra-marathoning like Pam Reed’s “The Extra Mile.”

If you need a complete training program visit our coaching page. We’ve designed very successful ultra-marathon programs before.

PS If you come by way of Phoenix… drop a line and I’ll make sure you have a place to stay. I’m sure my running club would run a day or two with you.

Good luck on your journey and let us know how you’re doing out there!

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News
http://www.running-advice.com

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