Ultra marathon training 101
So, you want to run an Ultra, where do you start?
I generally advise people to give a marathon a go first. It’s a really big step up otherwise and you don’t know how your body and brain will adapt to the mileage in training and on race day. It’s also a good incremental step, allowing you to challenge your body incrementally to reduce injury risk.
You can then look at picking your first race, I’d suggest starting with one around 30 mile/50k in length. Give yourself at least 6 months to train, if you already have marathon experience. You can find a great calendar of Ultra Races here; http://www.ultramarathonrunning.com I’d also recommend the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) for longer distance challenge events that you can walk or run and cost far less (https://www.ldwa.org.uk)
My first training tip to aspiring ultra marathoners is to be gradual with increasing your mileage, and don't increase it every week. Have weeks in your plan to recovery where mileage and intensity drops back
Ultra marathon training plans have a few key differences to plans for other distances;
double run days, two runs in the same day so you get used to running on tired legs
back to back long runs; a longish run the day before your really long run to get the miles in on tired legs without having to spend literally all day doing your long run!
longer runs mid week
less focus on threshold or fast pace speed work
When you are training for an ultra some of your runs are "time on your feet" based, instead of distance based. It's a different, and often refreshing, way to structure your training!
Ultra races are really varied, but many of them are off road. So you’ll need to be doing plenty of your training mileage on terrain similar to that in your race. Try to mimic the surfaces in the race and the elevation, especially during your long runs. Flat road running won’t be great preparation for a mountain trail ultra!
As the events get longer, keeping fuelled and hydrated as you run becomes more important. The long training runs are perfect for practicing what you plan to eat and drink, and really anything goes! Far fewer people will be taking gels and sports drinks than on shorter events, with runners and aid stations opting for more real food that is easier to digest and gives less of a sugar high, then low.
As he distances get longer you may find yourself running in the dark, again practice makes perfect with this. Think about some middle of the night short runs to acclimatise yourself and also practice taking on caffeine on your runs if you need it.
Ultra runners walk in races, even the people at the front. So practice walking! It uses subtly different muscles to running and if’s a key ultra skill that you need to train for. Check how your legs, kit and mental strategy cope with building walking into your race.
In ultra races it’s also fairly common to have to navigate yourself. Get yourself a map of your local area and get familiar with it as a starter. I also offer navigation training for those who are new to it!