How to Run 50 Miles: Part III – Muscular Strength

Read Part I and Part II first.

The second principle I mentioned in my first post is that aerobic fitness is rarely the limiter of speed. Again, I’m not a scientist but just stating what I learn through my own experience. If you happen to know of scientific evidence for anything I’m talking about (refuting or confirming) make note in the comments. Aerobic fitness does matter, it is just isn’t the be all end all.

In the past few months I’ve run the Portland Marathon (flat and on paved roads) and two 50K ultra-marathons (hilly and mostly off road). In these three outings, despite running them after just a few months of training after a long hiatus from running, I was never out of breath. There were a few times during the 50K’s when I was breathing super hard during steep climbs, but those were just a few isolated incidents. The majority of the time my lungs were not the limiter in any way. I was breathing fine, but still my perceived exertion was very high.

In the case of my Portland Marathon experience, after about 16 miles my legs just stopped working normally. I wasn’t aerobically fatigued in any way, but it felt like I just finished a billion reps of squats and my leg muscles just wouldn’t fire. During my 50K’s, I had a similar experience. My muscles were just exhausted, as if I finished a really demanding weight workout, but my cardiovascular system and lungs seemed fine. During The North Face 50K, there were plenty of long climbs on single-track trails. They took a lot of power to muscle up.

I wish I had worn a heart rate monitor during my races to prove this point. I bet my heart rate was right around 140 or so. Not super high. What also happened later in the races was that my form went to hell. I would slouch over and everything would just sag. My core and low back would tire. This would affect my stride and breathing.

My take away from these events is that muscular strength (across the whole body, not just legs) plays a massive part in endurance events. When I say strength I really mean power/weight ratio. Strength with a fairly lean overall mass. Strong core and strong back to support proper form over long distances. Strong posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, low-back) to support overall running form and power. Once a reasonable aerobic base is developed, it makes intuitive sense that working the other energetic and power-building pathways in the body is a smart thing to do.

Published by Ravi Raman

Executive Coach + Yogi + Endurance Athlete

7 replies on “How to Run 50 Miles: Part III – Muscular Strength”

  1. Perhaps, *motivation* also plays a part…

    From: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni41a2.htm

    “The Marathon Monks

    “The marathon monks of Japan are a group of Buddhists who push the limits of human endurance in search of a higher plane of spirituality. The ritual followed by these monks is almost beyond belief:

    “1st year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2-mile marathons, beginning at 1:30 a.m., each day after an hour of prayer
    2nd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons
    3rd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons
    4th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice
    5th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice
    On the 700th day, the monks undergo a 9 day fast without food, water, rest or sleep – a mind-boggling feat which would result in certain death for most human beings, before having a short rest of a few weeks and increasing their gruelling schedule
    6th year: 100 consecutive days of 37.5 mile marathons
    7th year: 100 days of 52.2 mile marathons and 100 days of 26.2 mile marathons.
    Throughout the night they run and pray, stopping at different stations along the way to recite prayers and perform ritual chants. Upon completion of each day’s marathon, the monks perform chores such as cleaning the temple and they continue to pray throughout the day, until retiring at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. The ritual begins again a few hours later. If at any time the monk finds himself physically or mentally unable to complete the 100-day ritual, he is duty-bound to *commit suicide by hanging himself with the belt from his robe or through ritual disembowelment*. And you thought the London Marathon was difficult!”

    Also see: Wiki/Kaihogyo

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaih%C5%8Dgy%C5%8D#Marathons

  2. For a more in-depth description of the Kaihigyo ritual, see: http://www.howtobefit.com/tendai-marathon-monks.htm

    “Author John Stevens, in his book, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei describes the running style which dates back over a thousand years. ‘Eyes focused about 100 feet ahead while moving in a steady rhythm, keeping the head level, the shoulders relaxed, the back straight, and the nose aligned with the navel.’

    “What makes all these distances even more amazing is the manner and the conditions in which the monks run. These runs are usually begun at night and are over mountain paths that are uneven and poorly marked. During the winter months the low temperatures and snow are a great hindrance to the runners. These monks do not wear the latest in footwear and clothing, but run in straw sandals, an all-white outfit and a straw hat. They also run on a diet of vegetables, tofu and miso soup, which modern athletes and nutritionists would deem to be unsuitable for endurance events.

    “Not only do they wear clothes and shoes unsuited to running, but they have to carry books with directions and mantras to chant, food to offer along the way, candles for illumination, as well as a sheathed knife and a rope, known as the ‘cord of death’. These remind the monk of his duty to take his life if he fails, by hanging or self-disembowelment. The course is littered with unmarked graves, marking the spot where monks have taken their own lives. However, there have been no cases of monks’ suicides since the nineteenth century.

    “During theses long runs the monks must make stops at temples of worship that can number up to 260. This means that the 86km run can take up to 20 hours to complete leaving the monk with very little time for recovery or rest, but as an old saying goes: ‘Ten minutes’ sleep for a marathon monk is worth five hours of ordinary rest.’ They also learn to rest sections of their body while running, such as their arms or shoulders.

    “And then there is the doiri, where the monk faces seven days without food, water or sleep or rest. During this time the monk will spend his entire day reciting Buddhist chants and mantras – perhaps up to 100,000 each day. The only time the monk will leave the temple is at 2am to walk the 200m to a well and return with water to make an offering. He is not allowed to drink any himself and the 200m walk can take up to two hours in the final days of the fast. During his time spent meditating there are two monks who are in constant attention to ensure that he does not fall asleep.

    “For several weeks before doiri, the monk will reduce his food intake so his body can cope with the fast. The first day is no problem, but there is some nausea on the second and third days. By the fourth and fifth days the hunger pangs have disappeared, but the monk has become so dehydrated that there is no saliva in his mouth and he will begin to taste blood.

    “The purpose of doiri is to bring the monk face-to-face with death. During this fast, the monks develop extraordinary powers of sense. They talk of being able to hear the ashes of incense sticks fall to the ground and, perhaps unsurprisingly, of the ability to smell food being prepared miles away… {more}”

    Barefoot? Wimps!

  3. Pingback: How to Run 50 Miles: Part IV – Proper Biomechanics « Set Higher Standards by YogiRavi
  4. Makes sense, the power to weight ratio side of endurance running, I’ve heard from a few reputable old school runners that the best exercise for running is running and nothing else but then found a report on power training ie weight lifting revolving around leg power and obviously that equates to overall body strength and mass but that the weight training resulted in a big percentage of running increases speed, endurance, form, the works….

    I think this is it didn’t read all of it just conclusion but there’s others similar to this….
    http://jap.physiology.org/content/86/5/1527.full

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