Deciding to do Leadville as my first 100 ten months in advance of the event had two flaws. One, Leadville should not be your first 100. With the hills and the altitude, you are stacking the deck against yourself for completing your first 100. Secondly, I should have started a full year in advance. With ten months to go, I was already behind schedule.
Ideally, starting in August, I would have built up my fitness to do the Rocky Racoon in Texas in Feb. A flat course, at sea-level consisting of 5x20M loops makes logistics a lot easier. And you can focus on just going the distance. Then you can work on hills, altitude and logistics of an out-and-back course like Leadville.
So, while I had 19 seasons of triathlon and marathon training in my body, I had taken off the previous year. My weight was up, diet poor and training base consisted of a few runs and some mountain biking. And I was about to start running 40M weeks. Even as a marathoner, I was a low mileage trainer and could run low three hours on a peak week of 40 miles, but usually I'd do 25 with some swimming and biking thrown in. I have also found that to go from a cold start to 25M/week is a significant effort on the body. To get to 40, I'd have to add 10% per week to keep from injury. That would have taken 5-6 weeks that I didn't have time for. The key was to start with the .9/.1 run/walk pattern. It was amazing how that allowed me to dramatically increase my weekly mileage without injury. Also, in ultra running, those walk breaks are essential for dealing with clothing, food, navigation and most importantly emotions. When you are feeling good, they calm you down. When you are feeling like crap, the walk breaks are a chance to regroup. If you are having a hard time restarting your run after a walk break, use your hands. Just start with moving your hands as if you are running and soon the rest of your body will follow.
So the annual plan for mileage has you running 40M weeks in Nov and Dec. They are done as follows: 5/10/5 rest 10/10 rest. This gives you two clumps of twenty miles each. The next week is 5/10/5 rest 15/5 rest. This maintains the same weekly total, two days of rest and bumps your long effort to 15. The third week is 5/10/5 rest 20/0 rest. Again you maintain the same weekly mileage, but lengthen the long run and pick up an extra day of rest. Speed does not matter. Do the run/ walk patterns and start practicing your nutrition hydration plan. Repeat the pattern for the next three weeks. By the end of Dec you'll have your second 20M and it will feel a lot easier than the first. A key is to make sure you can run 20 easily at this point.
On race day, you have a half-marathon in the dark to warm up, then a nice trail marathon followed by a 20 mile double cross of Hope Pass, followed by another trail marathon likely in the dark and then a final half marathon after sunup. So you need to start thinking in terms of another twenty is no big deal. With the food and water I was able to carry I could go 15 comfortably. So I started to think of runs in terms of how may times I'd need to reload. Kind of like thinking of long driving trips in terms of the numbers of tanks of gas you'll need.
Now that you can do 20M comfortably by Dec, the next step is to add ten miles to your long run per month. So by the end of Jan it's 30, Feb 40 and March 50. Stop there. As a general rule, if you can train at half the distance and feel ok at the end, you'll be able to double it on race day. And running longer wears you out more than the corresponding benefit. This makes practicing food and hydration over 60 miles difficult. Just as what works in a 50 is different than a marathon, your stomach may not like your tried and true formula for 50 miles at 75 miles and beyond. I found a chafe free way to run to 50, but had trouble after 70.
To run 30 on Jan 31, run a 15/15 pair on Jan 14th and 15th. On Feb 14/15th run a 20/20 pair so you can run 40 on Feb 28. Similarly, on March 14/15, run a 25/25 pair so you can run 50 on March 31. I would do these runs on these exact dates. Even if it means running through the night and skipping sleep (good practice). I also found that doing them alone makes you resourceful. Although it was great to have Huybert's company on a very cold 30M in icy conditions in Feb. In between these runs, do the 5/10/5 pattern and lots of rest days.
Once you can run 50 comfortably, add in a 50M race or two, then start adding hills, altitude and specific work on the course. It takes a surprisingly long time to fine tune your gear, learning to run at night over trails, do stream crossings etc.
Many of these lessons I've been able to appy to other adventures (roll you're own ironman) so enjoy.
Next, let's talk about that nutrition/hydration plan.