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How An Ultra Marathoner Trains

Sam Skeels is father of three, an elementary school principal and an endurance athlete.

For the most part during the week my training takes place in the early morning, while my family sleeps, and before my work as an elementary school principal begins. Though running and training for races is a critical piece of my life, it is not what’s most important to me. So, I always keep in mind a couple things when approaching training:

  1. Be sure the things I am doing in running are for God’s glory, and serve His purpose for me in my life.  
  2. Keep my life in balance, which for the most part means prioritizing family time over training. Balance also means not “over doing it” in training.   

Most of the time, if my life is in balance, I enjoy getting out of bed and training around 5am each weekday. This training typically lasts one to two hours, and will incorporate a speed/strength/hill session, a tempo run, and three recovery/easy days. On the weekend I like to get in one or two long run days depending on what event I am training for. I average right around 75 miles per week. While training for 100 milers, I will get in several 100-mile weeks in the build up.  

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I’m not big on running twice per day, however, I do enjoy heading out for a short run after school releases, especially if I’m aiming for a high mileage week leading up to a 100 miler. Another component that has really helped my fitness has been a weekly intense stair session including functional strength training. Most everyday I do some sort of body weight strength work that may include push-ups, abs, core and pull/chin-ups. I also try to get a good stretch in most days per week. I wouldn’t exactly call this yoga, but I do incorporate prayer and meditation into the stretching routine. I try to take a day off either once a week, or once every two weeks.

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I love to train almost as much as I love racing and competing. As a result, I do like to train year round. That said, I do also prioritize recovery, and some down time periodically throughout the year. After 100 milers I will take about a week off of running, and will swim, walk, and bike beginning a few days after the race. For other shorter ultra races, marathons and below 

which are goal races, I’ll take the same amount of time to recover. I’ve also found that using shorter races to build and train through for longer races has also been good for me.    

Finally—and for me, most importantly, for training and racing is confidence. This confidence builds through training mentally as well as physically. The first marathon I ever attempted, I DNF’d. This has been my only DNF so far in any race at any distance. I want to race for the rest of my life, and I know the reality and possibility exists that I will need to DNF again at some point. However, since my only DNF, nearly a decade ago, I have learned a couple truths to running and racing. First, if I am determined to finish, and am mentally strong, there are very few things that will cause me to DNF. Unforeseen things can come up in races: accidents that require immediate medical attention, significant illness, and forces of nature to name a few. Mental fortitude is something that builds over time, and is honed through training and racing experiences.