The case of May-Britt Hansen and the "ultra gene"
May-Britt, 47, began running 4 years ago and recently became the Danish female champion in the 24 hour run, running about 117 miles.
Here she is running with the guys.
Danish researchers jumped on the chance to do some genetic testing and found she has a double copy (two alleles) of the FTO gene. Carriers of two copies (16% of the Europeans) have a 1.67-fold higher rate of obesity than those with no copies. But this gene may also enhance performance in endurance sports.
On some weekends she runs between 60 and 70 miles, and some weeks this will be her total mileage, but I was unable to find an average amount. More info at her blog http://ultra3460.blogspot.com/ (although it is in Danish).
The case of Helen Lavin
Here she is at the beginning of the Voyageur 50 with Valeria Shuster behind her. Photo courtesy of Jen Pierce.
After the race, I had a wonderful chat with Helen and tried to find the secret to her success.
She says she runs on average 30-40 miles/week during the winter and 50-60 during the summer. I asked about hill training and she said she hasn't really done any in about a year.
One thing she swears by is Bikram Yoga (Yoga at around 100 degrees F) which she does multiple times a week.
I have gathered from her blog http://helenlavin.blogspot.com/ that she doesn't seem to adhere to any particular diet, though has been making an effort to "improve" her eating lately.
One thing is for sure, though, she absolutely loves running. A quote from Helen after 47 miles in the 50 miler "I loved being back in the rocky section."
The case of Jenn Shelton
This is the 25 year old who two years ago broke the female record for fastest 100 miler on trails (this was at Rocky Raccoon in Texas). Her training strategy, according to Christopher McDougal from Outside Magazine, involves waking up and having a veggie burger and then running until she gets too tired to run longer (which ends up being about 20 miles).
She also told Christopher McDougal "I started running ultras to become a better person. I thought if you could run 100 miles you'd be in this Zen state. You'd be the Buddha, bringing peace and a smile to the world. It didn't work in my case. I'm the same old punk-ass as before, but there's always hope."
Let's turn to a guy just to contrast.
The case of Anton Krupicka
He just ran and set the course record at the White River 50 (The USATF 50 mile championship). His time was an incredible 6:32. His training is at 10,000 feet at his home in Leadville, CO. He runs about 160 miles per week (if not injured from exactly that). More info here http://antonkrupicka.blogspot.com/.
But is it actually Anton Krupicka's minimalist approach that makes him so good?
Note this racing outfit:
A hair tie would just be too much accessorizing.
But the most amazing thing is, in these shorts, he had stored a water bottle, four gels and a bunch of S-Caps. Where are they?
So women, you might just need to tuck a water bottle and a bunch of food in your compression shorts and, if you can avoid pseudo camel toe, you might have the secret!
Okay, so the science completely fell apart.
What is it that all of these runners have in common? One thing I have noticed, is considering how extremely talented they all are at ultramarathons, none has an exceptionally fast marathon PR. What else? They all make time for very long runs and, well, they absolutely love to run long, long trail runs. And there's no doubt there are multiple genetic factors at play. But I've failed to find any specific training secret. Are there any readers with ideas?
What have I changed? I did just sign up for Yoga again (though no Bikram to be found in Denmark) but I've decided to keep my hair ties. And now that I can get up from the toilet without using my hands after the 50 miler, I might start some serious running.