How Does One Train to Run Across the United States?

One of the first questions that comes up when talking about this run is, “What are you doing to train?” Much of my training plan is inspired by Marshall Ulrich’s account of his own transcontinental run in his book, Running on Empty. He has been an inspiration for me since I heard him speak at Princeton in 2015. I modified some of his workouts to fit my schedule and abilities. Up until a week ago, the truthful answer to the training question was, “Nothing.” I took the better part of November off to let my body rest, recover, and focus on strength training; then in December I eased back into things. Now the real training begins. In the cold.

The bitter, Wisconsin cold. And ice. But it beats 100 degrees and humid!

While I wait for the weather to warm up, I am gradually increasing my mileage from 30 miles per week until the end of March when I peak at 140 miles (half of what I’ll be doing in the summer). Here’s what that week looks like:

          Sunday: 40 miles, broken into 20, 13, and 7-mile segments

          Monday: off (stretch and recover)

          Tuesday: 15 miles, alternating 1 mile easy effort, 1 mile harder effort

          Wednesday: 25 miles, broken into 15 and 10-mile segments

          Thursday: 20 miles, broken into 12 and 8-mile segments with two stadium workouts (simulates hills)

          Friday: 10 miles, 8×1000-meter repeats at a moderate pace

          Saturday: 30 miles

After peak week I rest, complete two more 100+ mile weeks, and then rapidly decrease my mileage until the official start of the run in early June. The central question, of course, is: How am I going to be able to sustain such constant high mileage? My answer: Thank you, unlimited meal plan.

While I will definitely increase my food intake, I know the real concern of the question centers around my knees. To stay as injury free as possible, I take my rest days very seriously, never running more than six days per week. The rest days will include stretching, icing, and body-weight exercises to make sure my quads and hamstrings don’t deteriorate from all the running. Weak quads and tight hamstrings often leads to knee pain. I also have compression sleeves as a preventative measure against injuries that may arise, and some of my mileage will come on an elliptical. (That’s where I’ll do much of my studying this semester!)

I think the most important part of training, though, is what I do when I’m not running. All of my running this summer will come at a very slow pace, so it’s not my aerobic system that needs the most preparation. What I need to get used to from now until June is simply being on my feet all day. So if you see me standing at the dinner table, please don’t judge; I’m in training! Just kidding, I won’t go to that extreme, but I will spend a lot of my down time on my feet. My blistered, black-toenailed feet. Wish me luck!


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