THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED FROM FEBRUARY 2016; UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2016.
Last winter, I decided to turn what was a three day streak of 10 (tempo), 13 (trail) , and 10 (slower) miles, into a personal challenge. The challenge was that I would run at least 10 miles a day for 7 days straight, including the 3 days I had just run. I wasn’t worried about having enough time. Even with work, writing, and other commitments, I knew I had enough time to log the miles. It would take up about 75 to 85 minutes of each day and I was more than willing to dedicate that time to running.
I got the initial idea for this challenge from a seed that was planted months before while I was reading Nick Symmonds’ book, Life Outside the Oval Office. Nick Symmonds is a phenomenal 800m specialist and has represented the US on numerous occasions, has many championship titles to his name, and is the 4th fastest American ever in the 800m event. In the book, Symmonds mentions running about 10 miles a day when he started to take his running more seriously and started to pursue qualifying for Team America for the next Olympics at the time. I wondered what running 10 miles a day was like. I’ve put in 80+ mile weeks when training for ultramarathons, but they didn’t consist of running 10 miles a day. What would my body feel like? How would I recover? What could I do to speed muscle recovery to avoid injury? Would I get tired of running after completing even just one week of that? I put these questions aside and went about my running as normal, but I couldn’t hold off any longer and I resolved to find some answers.
At the time of the beginning of this challenge, I had already run 3 days of 10+ miles and I was feeling great. What was 4 more days of it? Because I was entering the work week on that 4th day, I knew I would likely need to split my runs up. I figured this strategy would help me get through the runs without risking very unnecessary and unwantedr injury.
There is also one other reason I decided to attempt this challenge. Sure, Symmonds’ book had planted the seed of 10 miles a day, but the seed to run repetitive long runs was planted many, many months before when I first started learning about stage racing. Stage racing, or multi-day racing, involves running x number of miles a day or per stage, for x number of miles per each stage. As this truly is an endurance running event, the miles are not generally anything to laugh. Take, for example, the Grand to Grand Ultra race that is held in Utah at the end of September. Runners must run the 170 mile course, self-supported, in 6 stages; runners cannot go ahead and run extra miles a day as that is simply not what stage running is about. Here is the stage breakdown for Grand to Grand:
Stage 1: 30.8 mi
Stage 2: 26.9 mi
Stage 3: 52.6 mi
Stage 4: 26.0 mi
Stage 5: 26.0 mi
Stage 6: 7.7 mi
And here is elevation, which over the 6 stages, total ascent is 18,041ft:
Now I know that all of this may scare some people and people may think these runners are downright crazy…I just so happen to be okay with being crazy.
When I decided to start eating a vegan diet, the first thing I noticed was how quickly my body recovered. I went from only running 5ks here and there, to training for a triathlon on a vegetarian diet and then for a marathon on a vegan one and recovery was the most obvious change for me. I no longer had any knee pain which I occasionally experienced (most likely inflammation due to my diet), and I didn’t experience fatigue or low energy even after hard workouts. It was remarkable. Eventually, I signed up for my first ultramarathon a year after being vegan and I knew it would be a daunting training period, but I was up for the challenge. I went through back-to-back long runs of up to 5 hours each from July through September in addition to tempo runs and strength training workouts and I didn’t experience the slightest bit of injury or real fatigue (of course I got tired, but not genuinely fatigued). I was recovering from my workouts so well and I attributed all of it to 1) being a smarter runner and 2) my plant-based diet. All of this to say that I learned a few years ago that my body recovers rather quickly. When I learned about multi-day stage racing, I fantasized about someday putting my ability to recover quickly to the test.
The challenge of running that number, 10 miles for 7 days, may have came from Nick Symmonds’ book, but I committed to this personal challenge to see what I would learn, not to be like Nick. When I’m financially ready (some of these races are several hundreds of dollars or a thousand and that’s just for registration!) and have the ability to put in the training, I want to start running these events. I figured, repeating 10 miles a day would give me a very slight glimpse as to what it feels like to engage in this kind of training. I could have made it more of a challenge by committing to 10 miles straight each day without breaking up the mileage, but it was still a learning experience.
An important part of the recovery: making sure my nutrition was balanced. I increased my calories (I did so probably by at least 500, but I didn’t count) because I was naturally hungrier, but I would have done so anyway to ensure my body had the energy it needed to do its daily job of functioning properly and recovering efficiently. Some runs, like Day 5’s especially, were run with very tight calves, so an adjustment in my stride was required, but I still made it through each of those 5 mile runs (morning and afternoon) at just under 8 minutes/mile pace.
The week-long challenge was completed with a 10 miler which I ran straight thru. What was so great was that I had to force myself to not run on day 8 because of how energized I was to do so, but I knew I needed a rest day after running what turned out to be 80 miles in 8 days or, for the challenge, 73 miles in 7 days (I ran the minimum 10 miles a day for 7 days but the day before I started the challenge I had run 7 miles).
So what did I learn?
By taking care of my body, my body was able to get through the mileage–mileage I hadn’t run in over 6 months–and not result in getting sick or feeling any signs of injury or physical stress. I kept up on my nutrition–eating additional calories and eating more nutritiously–and stretched and rolled more which all helped a lot. Stretching was so helpful especially for not waking up sore and tight in the morning. I wish I got more sleep and I wonder how sufficient sleep would have helped me even more…maybe something to try out next time I embark on this challenge.
My best advice: find out how you best recover because no matter how much you train or don’t train, the ability to recover efficiently is the key to staying healthy and enjoying running and isn’t that the point of it all?