Between Endurance & Stamina

When I started running ultras, my goal had been to progressively increase the distance I am able to successfully complete. The most common ultra is the 50km category, which can be either a road ultra or trail ultra. A 50km road ultra is no doubt easier compared to a 50km trail ultra. Some trail ultras involve substantial vertical climbs and they can be very tough if you are not use to climbing or running downhill.

I have raced a few trail ultras in the 50-55km category with various elevation gains. They were each unique in terms of route elevation, surface terrain and racing conditions. The difficulty of each trail race is reflected in the amount of time given for you to qualify as finisher. Most of the 50-55km category I participated came with a range of 2,200 to 2,600m elevation gain. For a run covering a 50km distance with climbs and downhill over varied terrains, one of the key abilities that you want to have or train for is endurance.

What does endurance means?

Endurance is your ability to endure running or walking over a distance. It is your ability to cover a distance or continue for a given time without resting.

I have been training my body to endure progressively longer distances ever since I started running ultras. The goal has always been for me to be able to complete the category distance injury free and within the qualifying time given. My interest is to be able to push myself further, covering longer distances instead of getting faster within the same distance category.

My next endurance checkpoint is a 100km road ultra and then a 100km trail ultra. A typical 100km trail ultra may come with a total elevation climb between 5,000 to 7,000m. This will be a new territory for me. The endurance requirement is significant higher and it is not something that one should take likely.

I do believe that anyone can run and walk a 100km ultra if they really want to, or forced to. With the right motivation or put in the right circumstances humans are capable of doing extraordinary things. But the suffering that comes with the many hours out there would make the experience excruciating and pointless.

Therefore the second ability which I think is more important for anyone hoping to complete an ultra well is stamina.

How can we define stamina?

Stamina is the ability to maintain a pace for a set period of time. It is your ability not only to cover a distance but to maintain a desired pace on average throughout the distance.

This adds the dimension of pace onto endurance. Stamina means there is now a time element to the duration of your endurance. You see, distance is actually not the ultramarathon’s absolute challenge. The real test is covering the distance within a limited time frame. That is why stamina is important.

 A 50km category trail ultras (with 2,200 to 2,600m elevation gains) typically comes with qualify time of 10 to 16 hours. You may be able to endure running and walking for 50km, but can you do so within a set time? Add this time limit component into the competition, and the objective becomes even more demanding. Meaning you will need to have the stamina to complete the ultra at a certain pace on average, that will be able to bring you to the finishing line within the time given.

A typical 100km trail race with elevation gains of about 6000m elevation gain may come with a qualify time of 32 hours. That means on average a runner must have the stamina to maintain the pace of 19min/km throughout the 100km (rest and toilet breaks included) to finish under the cut-off time. If you are unable to maintain this pace on average for 100km, you will be considered “disqualified” (even though you cross the finishing line alive. Yes, it is that brutal).

This is where structured and dedicated training comes in if you are hoping of finishing an ultra-distance race within the qualifying time. It gets substantially harder when a required pace comes into play and pure endurance is no longer enough.

In Project Go-Ultra, my first target is to build sufficient endurance to complete a 100km trail distance within the stipulated race cut-off time (which is generally around 30 to 34 hours). I include the condition of finishing it within the cut-off time because I believe I have in the last two years built sufficient base to be able to complete the race within allowable time requirement. The more challenging and long term aspiration for me then is to have the stamina to complete the 100km distance within a 24-hour period. Meaning I will need to be able to hold a 14min/km pace for the distance of 100km of climbs, downhill and whatever the trails throw at me.

Why the 24 hours goal? Simply because I don’t think I will possibly enjoy a trail running experience that will put me on my feet for more than 24 hours!

First shared: 10-Sep-2020