How I Trained for My First 24-Hour Track Ultra & Logged 81 Miles
Running laps on a track is not boring. Every lap is a victory lap.
I have been running ultras, also known as ultramarathons and endurance runs, since 2005. I have run 50 mile and 100 mile ultras. I have run 24 hour road and trail ultras. Until recently I had never run a 24 hour track ultra.
Running lap after lap on a 400 meter track appears daunting and boring. Could I enjoy running on a track for 1 mile (4 laps) let alone run on a track for 24 hours?
I am an ordinary ultrarunner. I have great endurance, focus, and running patience but would I have the mental strength to run in circles. The only way to find out was to start running laps on a track.
To prepare for my first 24 hour track ultra, I read about running on a track. I took advice from elite ultrarunners. And I put in the training miles.
Running on a Track
To train I followed the 100 mile training schedule I have used when training for a 100 mile ultra.
On the surface, running on a track looks like a walk in the park compared to the terrain of technical trails. Trails are often covered with rocks, mud, pesky tree roots, and peppered with flooded creeks and water crossings. There is elevation, down hill and up hill.
Running a 24 hour trail ultra requires a headlamp and a hand held flashlight to light the course in the dead of night. Trail tripping and tumbling are par for the course.
I know how to run on roads and trails but now I needed to learn how to tackle a track.
Transitioning to the Track
The transition from trail and road running to track running was not difficult. The first time I hit the track at the local high school, I ran 3 miles from home on the trail, then 10 miles on the track, followed by 3 trail miles back home.
Although the track is flat, I quickly discovered that the challenge was not monotony but wind. On my first track run, I ran10 miles counterclockwise on a cold and cloudy day in 19 mph wind.
The strong wind definitely slowed me down.
I needed to learn how to run in and against wind on a track. Running a 24 hour track ultra in the wind made me apprehensive.
Running in Wind and Cold
While searching how to run in wind, I came across an article citing research that, suggests and advices the following.
A “substantial” wind (i.e. one approximately equal to the pace you are running at) will set you back 12 seconds per mile with a headwind, and aid you by 6 seconds per mile with a tailwind.
Lean into the wind slightly to reduce resistance, and head down. Treat running into wind the same way you would run up a hill, lean into it, but not at the waist, your whole body should be slightly forward.
I applied these tips to my track training.
Hydration and Calories
Running in the cold and wind requires layers. During my track training, I wore layers in the cold and windy weather under clouds and sun. I stayed hydrated with Nuun. I maintained sufficient calories during my training runs with almond butter and multi-grain bread, bananas, oranges, potato chips, dark chocolate Kashi, and crackers.
Miles and Mind Games
I applied my 100 mile training schedule to my track training. I dedicated 12 weeks to track training. The longest mileage took place on Saturdays.
I ran 16, 18, 20, 10, 20, 5, 15, 25, 10, 10, 10, and 8 miles, respectively, on twelve consecutive Saturdays, plus shorter distances 3–4 days during the week on the track or on trails. Along the way I got a cold and had to reduce my mileage on a couple of Saturdays.
To help minimize the monotony of the track, and to keep me going for laps and laps, miles and miles, I played mind games.
A 10 mile training run is 40 laps. I counted backwards after every lap and said aloud — 1 lap down, 39 to go, etc.
Counting down laps in my mind helped me to stay focused on the task at and and complete my goal, lap by lap. Counting seemed to make the laps go by faster.
This mind game was more mental than physical but I found myself running faster. It got me to the finish.
I rarely listened to ultrarunning podcasts or music while training.
The first time I ran on the track, I ran 10 miles clockwise.
On the third training Saturday I ran 20 miles. I mixed it up a little. I ran the first 5 miles clockwise, the next 5 miles counterclockwise, and the next 5 miles clockwise.
With 5 more miles to go and feeling fatigued, I played a little game. I walked 50 meters, ran 150 meters, walked 50 meters, ran 150 meters. I repeated this for 5 miles. This game kept me going.
During my second 20 mile training run, I ran 10 miles clockwise and then 10 miles counterclockwise.
During my 25 mile training run, I ran 5 miles counterclockwise, then 5 miles clockwise, and repeated this until my 25 miles were done. This was the only time I ran in heat and sun until the last the two miles. Sudden storm clouds and powerful winds made my already fatigued running a bit more challenging.
Walking is an important part of ultrarunning. When I train for a road or trail ultra, I walk the first 3 minutes, run the next 15 minutes, and repeat for as many miles as I am able. I apply the same interval on race day.
While training on the track, I walked the first lap of each mile, and ran the last three laps. Or I ran the first three laps and walked the last lap. Walk/run intervals make fatigued legs and mental exhaustion manageable.
Sometimes I get a surge of energy and keep running; sometimes, I am so fatigued, I just walk and drag my feet. But I keep moving.
Incorporating walking in track training helps to break up the boredom and keeps you moving. Changing the direction and running clockwise and counterclockwise is part of track ultra events so, practicing changing directions is key.
As I trained, I kept in mind advice from Camille Herron. I interviewed Camille after she set a world 24 hour track ultra record. She ran an astonishing 162.919 miles at the 2018 Desert Solstice 24 hour track ultra.
Your mind and legs will get fatigued. It’s a whole body exhaustion that you go through. Mentally, try to break it up. Hopefully, the track ultra you’re doing changes every 4 hours.
For me, breaking my training up meant walking one lap/running three laps and vice versa, or walking 50 meters, running 150 meters and repeating until the mile was completed.
I changed directions on the track.
The track is completely different because you can set up a crew stop along the way. If you know there is food there and a comfortable seat, it’s easy to spend too much time on the sidelines. Beware of the chair.
In the middle of the night when you are tired, just walk. Keep going. The more time you spend moving forward, even slowly, the more miles you’ll cover.
By race day I had logged 557 training miles consisting of 407 track miles, 90 trail miles, and 60 miles on my birthday on a one mile loop. I went into my first 24 hour track ultra as ready as I was ever going to be both mentally and physically.
I had trained in mostly 40–60 degree windy weather. The race day forecast called for rain after midnight. The morning of the race was cool and sunny. Soon the temperature was in the low 70s. I prefer to run in sun and heat so, I was excited that the weather was so nice.
With my Gymboss interval timer and stopwatch clipped to my running pouch, I was a consistent 3 minute walker/10 minute runner.
I was on pace for 100 miles until about about mile 51.
The rain did not wait until after midnight. Around 8 pm it began to drizzle. Soon the drizzle become rain for 11 hours, heavy at times.
The overnight temperature dropped to 51 degrees and was made even colder by strong wind.
It’s a good thing I packed extra running clothes and shoes. I changed twice. I put on long running tights. I layered up.
By the end of the race I had soaked two running jackets, two water repellent jackets, three running tights, two pairs of running shoes, and a long sleeve running shirt wrapped around my head to protect my running hat from the rain. I even walked/ran with an umbrella for a few laps. It was futile.
The rain, wind, and the weight of my water logged shoes and clothes definitely slowed me down.
Every Lap is a Victory Lap
On Mother’s Day morning at 23:55:37, soaking wet, freezing, and blowing in the wind, I finished my 27th ultra — my 7th 24 hour ultra and my first 24 hour track ultra.
I triumphantly logged 326 laps for a total of 81.0268 miles to be exact.
The Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 Hour Track Ultra is my second best 24 hour ultra event.
The support of my husband Jon as my crew, my consistent track training, good hydration and calories, my ability to adapt to weather changes, breaking up my run with walk and run intervals, and staying away from the chair (I sat in the chair by our tent for a few minutes about 5 times) helped me to stay strong and keep moving slow and steady in wind and rain.
I placed 6th female and 19/50 overall.
Every lap during a 24 hour track ultra is a victory lap. Now it’s on to training for my first multi-day ultra around a one mile loop in August — A Race for the Ages.
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) has been running over 30 years. She’s been running ultras since 2005. She has been published in Ultrarunning Magazine, Women’s Running magazine and Podium Runner. She reviews books about endurance and ultrarunning, and interviews elite ultrarunners. Visit her website: ULTRAMIRIAM