We're preparing to run a race. As such, we should run. Right?
Not always. Many new ultrarunners make the mistake of focusing entirely on running and ignoring any other form of exercise.
If you do nothing but run, you'll likely develop muscle imbalances, which may lead to injury. It can also increase flexibility, muscle endurance, and recovery. It will also prepare your body for some of the unexpected elements of ultras. For example, the weight training I do helps me carry my water bottle for the duration of races. That 20 ounce bottle of water gets quite heavy after 100 miles.
So what are the options?
Pretty much any non-running exercise will be effective crosstraining. Here are some ideas:
- Mountain biking
- Unicycling (thanks Rob Youngren)
- Weight training
- Competing in the Lumberjack Games
- Testing the entire Kama Sutra
If you want one specific recommendation, I suggest functional fitness-high intensity interval training. What the Hell is that? It combines exercises that utilize a wide variety of muscle groups with workout formats that make you sweat. A lot.
Crossfit is usually viewed as a form of functional fitness. P90X is another popular program. If I were to give a specific recommendation, I'd suggest Pete Kemme's workouts that can be found at http://kemmefitness.com. His workouts range from mild to extreme, so they appeal to beginners, experts, and everyone in between. One of his more famous workouts involved doing a burpee then leaping forward... for a mile. He's also fond of using homemade gym equipment like slosh tubes, doing weird “animal walks” up and down stairs, and creating 1,000 ways to do a pushup. Pete's crazy workouts helped me finish all of my 100 milers.
I would recommend doing a crosstraining activity at least twice per week. Don't be afraid to mix it up. Any physical activity other than running will help train you for ultras.