In theory, running more training miles would lead to better performances but there is a point of diminishing returns, as well as certain risks associated with such a program. There are also risks associated with my low mileage program. Many physiologists think that the best way to improve MaxVO2 is to simply run more miles, at least up to about 75 miles per week. Above that the gains are miniscule and are only made by directly addressing Max V02 via fast repeats. Sort of like the difference between a $500 bike and a $1000 bike is much more than the difference between a $1000 bike and a $10,000 bike.
Of course MaxVO2 is much less of a factor in races of Ultra distance. Running economy and efficiency is probably the most important factor in situations where you are staying sub-max for a long period of time (for example, 2 runners may both be able to run 10 miles at 5:00 pace, but when they run at 7:00 pace for 3 hours, one of the runners is working much harder). If all you did was look at their 10 Mile PRs you’d never know which one would make a better ultrarunner. Of course the 2nd runner could work on his economy and things would even out again.
In my own “serious running” past, my best times from 1K to the Half marathon all came during periods of moderate/high mileage (75-100 miles per week) that included 3 key workouts; a tempo run, a VO2 interval workout, and a long run. But, I ended up injured frequently. I have found that running more consistently for longer periods of time can lead to almost as good of results, and I prefer to race all through the year rather than peaking for just 1 or 2 events, so I think my current training philosophy works well with doing 6 – 8 ultras a year, as I have been for several years now. The main difference I have found is that a low mileage plan leaves less room for error in your races, meaning you have to be honest about your fitness levels and set your goals accordingly. Then, you have to execute a good race plan and be mentally strong because you don’t have the tons of miles to fall back on.
A fascinating thing about ultras, versus say a 5000m race, is that the fittest runner doesn’t always win an ultra race. Rather, the one who runs a well-paced race, is able to stay hydrated and fueled, and stays mentally strong through the rough patches is often the one who wins. This is why I have been able to actually train a bit less the last few years but stay at a similar or higher performance level than my first few years of doing ultras; I’m just a better, smarter ultrarunner now than I used to be. I also think there is something to be said for the long term benefit of all the long races; I don’t feel as if I need to do as many long runs now that I have the muscle memory of so many of them in my legs.
My basic training philosophy is to simulate your race as much as possible in training. For example, consider the Leadville 100. Many people run a lot of miles, including hills, for this race. But then consider the average finishing time is about 28:30. I did the race with my father this year and we finished in 28:42. I estimate that we ran 30 miles and walked 70 miles. We didn’t run up ANY hills during the race. So, it would make sense for most people training for mountainous 100s to spend the majority of their training time walking since that is what they are going to be doing a lot of come race day.
So, whether it is night running, eating on the run, mixing walking and running or whatever you expect to be doing in your race, incorporate that stuff into your weekly training.
Here is an “old” training week (Sep 1999):
Mon – AM 5 miles on flat dirt. Noon 7 miles Garden of Gods trails.
Tue – AM 6 miles on TM 40:59. PM track workout totaling 13 miles. 3 x 2 miles with 2:00 jog recovery. 10:19, 10:20, 10:13.
Wed – 9.5 miles trails in Garden of Gods.
Thu – AM 4 miles on TM. Noon 9 miles on roads, structured fartlek. 2 x (1:00 hard, 1:00 easy, 2:00 H, 1:00 E, 3:00 H, 2:00 E) with average pace being 5:20.
Fri – 8 miles TM
Sat – AM 10 miles total, including local road 5K in 14:44
Sun – AM 22 miles on Sante Fe trail at 6:45 pace
Total – 94 miles
Current Ideal Training Week:
Mon – 0 running. Walking with dogs.
Tue – 1:00 total time running, including 4 mile flat tempo run (5:45-6:00 pace)
Wed – 2:00 rolling dirt run.
Thu – 1:15 total time running, including 4 mile uphill tempo run (7% grade / 8:00 pace)
Fri – 0 running. Walking with dogs.
Sat – 2:00 flat dirt run, at about 7:45-8:00 pace
Sun – 1:30 hilly dirt run.
Total 7:45:00 / 60 miles