Ultramarathons are some of the toughest challenges that runners can attempt. We have put together an ultramarathon training guide to help you get there!
Whether you want to progress your running towards completing a first ultramarathon, or you’re a regular, here’s everything you need to know. Get the most out of the months of training ahead! There are a host of factors that will all tie together; from improving your training to nailing your recovery. If you can master the following items, you’ll be moving in the right direction further than you thought possible!
Ultimately to run faster and build your fitness for an ultramarathon, you need to start practising running at faster speeds. To do this you need to do two particular types of training sessions; Tempo and Interval sessions. An Interval session is typically where your run faster than you can run continuously, with true rest periods (walking!) in between. This forces your body to adapt to running at these faster speeds and as a result, the pace you can run continuously will increase proportionally. As well as running faster for short periods you should aim to build up your tolerance for running at faster speeds for longer and this is where Tempo sessions come in. Here you’ll run at slightly faster speeds, but for longer and keep jogging between sections.
With a goal like an ultramarathon, it’s crucial to build up your endurance with long runs alongside all the faster training you’ll be doing too. You need to help familiarise your body with running for longer periods. Gradually you will be able to work up to that ultramarathon distance, with a combination of different session structures. As well as being able to get around the distance, we want you to look strong too. To achieve this, within your long runs, it’s important to also include some faster sections. Try the events over at Maverick to build your confidence for race day and practice various distances as you build up your fitness.
These long runs are also going to translate improvements back to your shorter, faster efforts too – building up your body’s endurance to run longer at slower speeds, it’ll help build your overall fitness. That means that you’ll be able to complete a few more reps of your future speed sessions, or endure a slightly faster pace for longer on your 5k runs – all in all making you a better runner!
Easy runs are often the most neglected part of runners’ training regimes. Running slowly when you’re aiming to run faster feels counter-intuitive, however, it’s for a good reason. Running fast is very fatiguing on your body, with heightened injury risk and longer recovery times. By spending most of your runs running slower and easier, it means you can still build your leg strength and endurance. You’ll also be less likely to get injuries and can then feel much fresher for your quality speed sessions and get more out of them. As they say, it’s quality over quantity. A popular rule to bear in mind is the 80/20 rule; you should be looking to spend 80% of your time doing easy running and only 20% of your time training at or above the threshold pace.
Incorporate cross-training within your running plans. This will not only help you to optimise your training but can also reduce your injury risk. For runners, cross-training options can include cycling, elliptical, rowing or swimming. We would advise you to do what you enjoy the most. It will add variety to your routine when you are running fit and healthy, but it will also make it a lot easier to adapt if you are injured. Set yourself goals and challenges whilst you can’t run – you will enjoy it a lot more!
Your weekly mileage is another important area to consider while building up towards the ultramarathon distance. First of all, you should start with a mileage that you know your body can tolerate; avoiding jumping all-guns-blazing into training after doing much less for a long time to prevent increasing your injury risk. Also, look to avoid jumping up significantly in the number of runs per week than you are used to.
As you build up your mileage over time, you should look to never exceed a weekly increase of more than 10%. For instance, if you can comfortably run 40km per week, next week run no more than 44km. Additionally, while you should look to increase your mileage over time, you should also add in de-load weeks. A deload week is where you’ll drop your weekly mileage every 3-6 weeks to allow your body to recover from, and adapt to, all of your recent training. This will reduce your injury risk. Likewise, helping you to feel both physically and mentally fresher in your training moving forwards.
Another way to look at your mileage can be ‘time on feet’. Depending on the ultra you have ahead of you, you may well not be able to run for the entire race. Should your event be particularly hilly, hot or very far, you’ll likely be breaking up the running with walking stints. As a result, in training, it’s worth being aware of your total time on your feet and looking to gradually increase this. This will help ready yourself for the toll on your body ahead. Additionally, it’s worth getting in some of your mileage in conditions that are as similar as possible to that of your event. Practice running similar elevation profiles and ideally in similar temperate conditions too. If you’ll be carrying a backpack or any equipment with you on the day, take that with you on your long runs too!
To help your body adapt to the hard training and also recover properly to avoid injuries, there are some essentials that you should be doing on the recovery side of things too. Firstly, sleep; aim for a consistent 8 hours of sleep every night. Secondly, whether it’s Pilates, Yoga or simply stretching, you should look do to at least some mobility work each week.
Other ways to optimise your recovery include sports massages or even using at-home massage tools such as massage guns or a foam roller. Listen to your body throughout your training and be prepared to take an extra day of rest or move the sessions around within a week if you find that you need a little extra recovery.
Completing an ultramarathon is just as much about being a good runner as being a good eater. You’ll need to nail your training sessions ahead but also make sure you’re fuelling your recovery and making health-conscious nutrition choices too! To help optimise your recovery, look to keep your protein high, take on plenty of carbs before your tougher sessions and if you’re looking to push the pace or distance, don’t be afraid to experiment with caffeine too.
Fuelling on the go is so important for several reasons – as you move, you use up your body’s energy stores (Glycogen) and once this runs out, your performance will significantly reduce (ever heard of ‘the wall’?). By consistently eating as you run, you can help take on fuel at the same rate as you’re losing it. Running while digesting food is not always easy. It takes some getting used to, hence the need to familiarise yourself with training. For the same reason that fuelling on the go helps on event day, fuelling in training will help you to run further and faster. It will also help you to further build your muscular and aerobic endurance!
Shoes and equipment
Your shoes are going to be a huge part of your training and investing in a good pair will help protect your body from the impact of the ground. We recommend going to a shoe shop that specialises in running shoes. It is good if it has a treadmill in-store so that you can test a few different pairs. As you’re training for an ultramarathon as the focus, we’d advise you to choose a pair of shoes that are comfortable and ones that you know you can spend a lot of time in. Should you be completing your event somewhere hot, be prepared for your feet to swell? As a result, you’ll want to have a bigger size of a shoe to use, especially if having to lace up a second day with something like a multi-day ultra!
All ultramarathons will have a mandatory kit list that the organisers will provide to ensure that you are well-prepared and safe. This will include a hydration vest which is going to be a huge asset for all of your training. Practice running with your vest on, but also practice running with it filled as this will help prepare your body for running with weight going through your back.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of training is being consistent and holding yourself accountable. Try to start by developing a routine around your running. Get used to getting out that door three, four or more times per week. You can even look to put your running sessions in your calendar/diary to help integrate them into your day-to-day. We’d also suggest tracking your progress as you go and using this as a tool to look back on how far you’ve come and motivate yourself to lace up for those harder sessions.
Look to make your training social. From telling your close friends your goals, to joining a community of runners either online or in your local area. What better way to hold yourself accountable than signing up for an event? Know you have a deadline when you can put all of your hard work into practice!
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Make sure you are practising each of these areas we’ve mentioned. Practice fuelling on the go and running with a pack. Practice pacing yourself and practice going up and down hills – you get the point. If you practice everything that you’re going to be tackling nothing will be new. You’ll also be more than prepared and feel strong to even enjoy the experience too! Our friends over at Maverick have the perfect events to practise your fueling and tempo – try one of their shorter distances here
Follow a plan!
Finally, maybe the best thing you can do to level up your running is to follow a plan! A good plan will take care of everything that we’ve mentioned in this article. From setting out the sessions for you and adjusting your mileage. To also incorporating deloads to balancing the right types of running for your ability. Having a plan will also help hugely with accountability and mean that you can focus purely on your running game!
Whether you have signed up for an upcoming race or are just hoping to build a good base level of fitness, one of our plans may be for you. To check out our personalised training plans, join Runna today and get your first week free!