Dealing with the Highs and Lows of ultra marathon Training: 3 Methods Used by Athletes

Finish line feeling - Success of ultra marathon training

Training for any sport, whether it be ultra-marathons or team-based like football, can be a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. One day you may feel like you’re on top of the world, setting personal bests and achieving your goals, and the next you may feel completely defeated, unable to perform at your best. Coping with these emotional and physical ups and downs of ultra marathon training can be a challenge, but there are three universal principles used by elite athletes that can help you manage stress and stay on track.

During ultras marathons, there’s a lot that can come up whether you’re pushing for course records or 24h. Heat, exhaustion, injury and terrain can all play a factor in your strategy

Participants fatigued at the end of Race To The Stones

Emotion-Focused Coping (EFC)

The first principle, Emotion-Focused Coping (EFC), involves using emotion regulation and mindfulness techniques to calm your “fight or flight” stress responses. Elite athletes often use EFC to help manage the emotional ups and downs of training and competition. Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, and meditation can help to reduce anxiety, increase focus, and improve mental clarity. Making sure you’re rested and your recovery is optimal will set you up for your next training session. Apps like Nucalm and Headspace can help you practise mindfulness and improve your recovery

Another key aspect of EFC is emotional regulation. This involves learning how to identify and regulate your emotions so that you can manage them more effectively. For example, if you’re feeling angry or frustrated after a bad ultra marathon training session, you might use EFC techniques such as journaling or talking to a coach or mentor to help process your emotions and work through your feelings.

Problem-Focused Coping for Ultra Marathon Training (PFC)

The second principle, Problem-Focused Coping (PFC), involves actively troubleshooting and problem-solving to counteract stressful stimuli in a specific context. This means taking a proactive approach to managing stress and finding solutions to the challenges you face. Elite athletes often use PFC to help them stay focused and motivated, even when things get tough.

For example, if you’re struggling with a particular aspect of your training, such as a difficult exercise or skill, you might use PFC techniques such as breaking the task down into smaller, more manageable steps, or seeking out additional coaching or resources to help you improve. The Runna app has constant guidance from a coach which could help you remain focused on your ultra marathon training and tackle those bigger issues.

Avoidance Coping  (AC)

The third principle, Avoidance Coping (AC), involves using avoidant strategies to disengage physically or psychologically from a source of stress. While this may seem counterintuitive, there are times when avoidance coping can be a useful strategy, particularly when dealing with stressors that are outside of your control.

For example, if you’re dealing with a chronic injury that’s causing you pain and limiting your ability to train, you might use AC techniques such as taking time off from training or focusing on other aspects of your sport or training routine. This can help you to manage your stress levels and prevent burnout, while still staying engaged with your sport. While we encourage people to try and solve an issue we know in life that isn’t always possible, in ultra marathons we focus on the long game. This method while training can help you find a workaround for that niggling knee or uneven hip that bothers you with traditional training methods.


In conclusion, coping with the highs and lows of training can be challenging, but there are three universal principles used by elite athletes that can help you manage stress and stay on track. Emotion-Focused Coping (EFC), Problem-Focused Coping (PFC), and Avoidance Coping (AC) are all valuable tools that can help you to manage your emotions, stay focused, and achieve your goals. By incorporating these principles into your training routine, you can develop the resilience and mental toughness needed to succeed in your sport or esports career.

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