Adam Gifford - Training for The Bear 100

Friday, September 10, 2010

Training Tips for A Bear of a Run

By Adam Gifford

In less than 2 weeks I will be heading out to Utah to run The Bear 100. The race boasts nearly 22,000 feet of elevation gain at altitudes that exceed 9000’. Completing a mountainous ultra like that tends to require a great deal of training in the mountains so as to acclimate the body to the altitude and strengthen the legs for climbing…this logic should come as no surprise to anyone who has competed in endurance sports. It is always best to train in conditions that are as close to the race conditions as possible. This is great advice, but unfortunately it is not always feasible. My problem is that I live in Florida and don’t live anywhere near anything that even closely resembles the conditions that I will face at The Bear. This is a common dilemma for many runners around the country. Fortunately there are many flatlanders and city dwellers who can still excel at mountain races despite their lack of access to similar terrain. Here are a few tips that have worked for me throughout my running career:

1. Get creative with your training. We have 1 major hill in the entire state of Florida. I am lucky enough to live close enough to this hill that I can use it to train on 2-3 times a week (I have met people who have traveled over 100 mile to train there) . Over the past month I have spend hours running up and down the half-mile paved hill. It hurts, it gets boring very quickly, and prepubescent teens in school buses heckle me; but with its 14% grade it has done wonders for my climbing ability.

2. Hit the gym. We all know that training outside is ALWAYS better than training inside, but sometimes being inside can be helpful. The leg strength than can be built up in the gym can be very effective to move you up those long climbs. I use a variety of free weights and plyometrics for muscular strength and endurance training. Stay away from the machines and don’t be that guy who wears his short racing shorts while doing squats (yeah, try to get that image out of your head).

Sugarloaf Mountain Road in Clermont, training grounds for The Bear.

3. Train hot. Heat and altitude have similar physiological effects on the human body. They both increase the heart rate and decrease pace during training. Although there is really no substitute for altitude acclimization, heat training can at least prepare the body for a higher heart rate or a slower pace. Once I tried training with a ball of cotton up one nostril to simulate a lack of oxygen, but it didn’t help and I wound up looking like that kid in your elementary school class who always had the bloody nose.

4. Get a cushy, tenured position at your local college. OK, I realize that this doesn’t work for everyone, but it has allowed me to train in the mountains of New England during my 15-week summer vacations.

I have completed over 50 ultras and my 3 favorites have all been mountain races (Bishop High Sierra 100k, Tahoe Rim Trail 100, Vermont 100). I HIGHLY recommend running a mountain ultra if you never have…even if the best training you can get is the stairwell in your office building.

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