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Ultrarunner/ski mountaineer Meredith Edwards knows a thing or two about going long distances in the mountains. The 32-year-old from Wilson, Wyo., finished second at the 2016 TDS, a 119-kilometer trail race through the heart of the Alps in parts of Italy, Switzerland and France. In 2015, she finished eighth in the 101K CCC race held on similar trails. This year she has her sights set on the 170K Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc on Sept. 1-2. Here are Edwards’ tips on how to successfully jump into ultrarunning.
1. Start slow.
“Run 50Ks,” says Edwards, who laments that too many people pick a 50-miler, 100K or even a 100-miler for their first foray into ultrarunning. Take time to build a base over 6 to 8 months, focusing on gradually increasing your weekly long runs runs to 3 to 6 hours in length and on trails, if possible. “I think it’s smart to start slow,” she says, “to build a solid foundation.”
2. Learn to recover.
“If you can’t recover just as hard as you put the effort in, you’re screwed,” says Edwards, who explains the importance of running fast on the days you need to run fast, and on the days that you’re just out putting in mileage, to run a relaxed effort. Edwards says she often runs with heart rate as her gauge, and warns that runners who think they need to be running fast all the time might see success for a month, but often burn out.
3. Get Stronger.
Edwards, who’s proud to say she can deadlift twice her bodyweight and do five conventional weighted pull-ups (with 15 pounds in tow), is a huge proponent of strength training—and full-body movements in particular. The most important thing is building functional strength—by strengthening the muscle groups related to your running motion. “My strength coach always says, ‘Strength equals speed over time.’ You need to be strong to run fast over distance.” Edwards credits her strength training for helping her stay injury-free.
4. Eat. A lot.
Edward’s regular diet is what she calls “as clean as possible,” in other words, free of processed foods. The trend is to reduce carbs and focus more on protein and fat, but she recommends doing what works for you. “When I want bread, I’ll buy a baguette. I don’t limit what I eat.” During ultras, she relies on gels, chews, waffles and soup. And she explains how she and ultrarunner friend Jim Walmsley joke that “ultrarunning is an eating contest. I eat every 30 minutes during a race.” As an added tip, train with whatever fuel you’re going to race with, and if your system doesn’t agree with it, change things up and try again.
5. Break up the week.
Edwards believes in a structured week . She typically fits a track workout, two weight training workouts, two high-mileage days and some recovery runs all into a typical week of training during ultrarunning season. On Mondays, when she does up to 12 miles of speed work on the track, she hits the gym afterward (so the running workout was the emphasis of her week). She returns to the gym on Wednesdays, sometimes before a running effort, like hill repeats on trail. Tuesdays and Thursdays are recovery runs. Fridays and Saturdays are long runs (back-to-back high mileage). Sundays are days off. The formula has worked for her. “I’m at a point where I’m making gains, and not lifting to repair injuries,” she says. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, and the fastest I’ve ever been. It’s all kind of come together.”