Many years ago, I was planning to run my first ultramarathon and felt overwhelming anxiety.  The thought of 24 hours circling an indoor track was very intimidating.  I had run several marathons at that point and felt comfortable with that distance, but ultras were quite another thing.  I wondered if I would be able to keep going that long or if I would just collapse on the track and, perhaps, even die.

I tried to learn all I could about running ultras in the hope of finding something that would ease my fears.  I found a book that gave me the answer I was looking for.  The author contended that there were only two things one had to do to extend the distance one could run.  If these two ideas were implemented, he believed any distance runner could run ultras.    The first was to take scheduled walking breaks.  These could be at any interval one chose, but it was very important to start taking them from the very beginning of the race.  Many runners feel rested and energetic at the start and see no need to walk.  This will turn out to be a regrettable mistake.

The second suggestion was sugar.  Yes, we all know sugar is just empty calories.  However, that is exactly what your body needs during an extended workout.  After an hour of running, even in a training run or a marathon, blood sugar levels fall.   This is when carbohydrate supplementation becomes important for maximum performance.  This has been confirmed in many studies over the years.

 Armed with these two keys, I felt comfortable enough to start out and do my best.  Every half hour I walked for five minutes.  Every hour or two I ate a white bread and grape jelly sandwich.  The staff were happy to supply any food requested by the runners.  I wanted pure carbs without fat, fiber, or protein.  Of course, I was careful to keep hydrated with water and maintain a moderate and sustainable pace.  I was able to last the 24 hours and cover 112 miles.

Most readers will never run an ultra or perhaps a marathon, so how is this relevant to them?  Even in a shorter race or training run, or any type of long workout, the two keys can be helpful.  A short slowdown each mile in a training run will not lengthen the overall time greatly and will leave you feeling stronger at the end.  An occasional gel pack with 100 calories and even a little caffeine will help as well.

I recall running a 5K and about a mile from the finish I came upon a runner who was walking.  I passed him and then he began running.  He passed me and immediately walked again.  It was obvious to me that each time he ran for less than a minute, he would become so exhausted that he had to walk.  Unlike the planned breaks described above, his were dictated by his body.   

After two knee replacements and 86 years on this earth, I no longer run competitively.  I do, however, speed walk 6 miles every other day.   On those days I use the same two ideas I used in that ultra long ago:  slow walk 60-90 seconds each mile and gel pack every two miles.