I've always been of the mindset that suffering in training makes racing pleasant. I don't mean the common knowledge that training builds your physical ability that enables you to race better; I'm talking about suffering and building mental strength.
There are different ways to achieve good suffering. I remember in 2009 jogging along with AJW in a shakeout run the night before we raced each other at the Ghost Town ultra in NM and him telling me he likes to deliberately plunge through streams and water crossings, encouraging pebbles and sand into his shoes and socks in order to "toughen his feet up". At the time I think I nodded respectfully while thinking, "nut job." Though I appreciate where AJW was coming from, I still think "nut job" because that type of suffering is actually just doing physical damage to the feet. Another intentional suffering tactic is Karl Meltzer's recommendation to soak your feet and shoes with the hose before every run while training for Hardrock (it works). This one I believe in because your feet will be soaked the entire time, whether 24 hours or 48 hours, you're on the Hardrock course (exceptions are the VERY rare years of dry snow years and weather).
Personally, my evolvement of self-imposed suffering during training started with winter cycling while in college. Sure, everyone "suffers" on hard training rides but I'm talking about more than just physical excursion . My training partner, Frans, was much more of a believer in winter training than I was. But, I did embrace the rides when the weather reached arctic extremes in Michigan. Many times we'd be out in snowstorms, riding hard, silently in single file along farm roads north of E. Lansing, razor winds freezing the sides of our faces numb, eyes nearly pinched shut with ice formed around the eyelashes. Brutal. What did it translate into for racing crits and road races in the beautiful summer months? The ability to hurt more and longer than competitors. I don't have the natural ability of most [all] elites, whether in cycling or running. But I can suffer like few others.
Here's part of an email I wrote a friend running his first 100 (he's much faster than I am at shorter distances and probably will be at 100s in time as well).
In every run, I climb 1000 ft right from my door, tickling 10,000 ft and it's in a west direction so there's usually a biting headwind - I swear a lot and reach the top of the 2 mile climb in about 20 mins usually but then it's over and I'm stronger for it. That, along with the elevation for an hour is worth a 3 hour warm low altitude run. Embrace shitty conditions. Find a hill (doesn't even necessarily need a trail on it) that looks ridiculous and run up it. Soak your shoes with the hose before a run. Run a couple hours in a fasted state and don't bring water once a week. Eat a stupid heavy breakfast and then go run. Gulp down 2 liters of water and then go run. Overdress, underdress. Wear the same running clothes for three days straight. Find a 3-5 mile descent and hammer it until your quads are blown.When the weather just won't cooperate, meaning it's pleasant out, then I create my own suffering. Some of my favorite training workouts for ultras include:
It all sounds hillbilly and mountain man style but it's the best way to train for 100s. Traditional training doesn't do much for you.
- Run up and down Mt Evans on the road (26 miles round trip to 14,265 ft, just south of me now) - run the down HARD
- Run up and down Flagstaff Rd (Boulder, CO) - run the down HARD, then repeat
- Run up and over Crowders Mtn (Gastonia, NC) - out and back, repeat 3x
- Run my secret stairs (built into side of mtn, Oakland, CA) 400 stairs, 10-12x
- Walker Ranch loop (just west of Boulder, CO). Undulating, relentless climbs with no rhythm, 3x
Looks like snow is coming in over the Continental Divide and the wind is gusting. Time to go suffer. Yes!