Reader To Reader: Ultra Training

Just how do you go about training for a race longer than a marathon? Here's what you said...


Posted: 4 November 2006
by Jane Hoskyn


Training for a marathon is tough and time-consuming enough, but at least you're not short of advice on training schedules. But the increasingly popular ultra marathon is quite another matter, as one reader has found. If you've got experience of ultra running, or you're currently training for your first, now's the time to share the benefit of your wisdom. Just how far should you push it – and where on earth do you find the time?

"I want to attempt my first ultra in February, but can't find any guidance on training. Specifically, day to day mileage or weekly mileage."
Karlos

Your best answers...

  • I did my first ultra – a hilly 40 miles – on about three days' training a week, between 20-30 miles a time. For me the biggest thing was getting my pace sorted before the day. I also made sure I did them on similar terrain as the event, practising nutrition and run-walk etc. Managed just under eight hours and 30th place, so not too slow. – Roger Walters
  • I'm a 45-year-old female runner who's run loads of ultras and mountain races in the past 15 years, including half tour of Mont Blanc in August this year. My advice would be not to overdo the mileage. You can never really train for a 50-mile race by doing a 50-mile training run, as you would just get injured. What you need to get used to is time on your feet, week after week, and try and run off-road wherever possible, as this takes the strain off your joints. On the day, don't set off too fast, and don't be afraid of mixing walking and running – but try not to do too much walking, as it's far too easy to get into this rut and not feel like running again. Hope this helps. – Shazza Bazza
  • Get a run-walk strategy sussed, unless you're planning to race it and be up there with the top few. It's something I've always had a problem with, as I'm too pig-headed to admit to myself that I need to walk. All very well until I'm crawling the last two miles on hands and knees. Your long training runs are very important psychologically. A huge portion of pushing yourself to your limits (and beyond) is a psychological element. If you've done a 30-miler in training, you know you needn't worry until well after that mark. However I wouldn't necessarily give up all speedwork, as it builds strength – and you'll need that! – Manx Muppet
  • I break my ultras down into small chunks. Don't think about marathon point if you can help it. I think you have to get your head in the right place, or you won't finish. I've done a few ultras and I don't train as such, but lots of marathons is one way of getting in some long runs with water etc provided. – Plodding Hippo
  • Ultra training is just like marathon training – but make your weekly long runs 20-plus miles. Don't be afraid to do more than one long run each week, either. You might need to build up slowly and gradually, and it might be best to remove speedwork from whatver marathon training schedule you use. No point risking overtraining or injury. I was doing 1x25 and 4x15 miles a week buiding up to a triple ironman recently, and the 4x15 were fitted around commuting – running to and from the train station twice a week. I think all the talk about 'mental toughness' is a bit of snake oil. Ultras aren't that hard. Running 100 miles slowly is much, much easier than running 26.2 miles to the limits of your capacity. If you can do marathons, you can 'complete' ultras. – candy ollier
  • Break the race down into five- to eight-mile sections. Have a treat to look forward to, maybe a rice pudding with jelly babies, and an aim, such as a time, or not walking or whatever. There is a HUGE benefit if you can get support on the run at these 5-8 mile points. Looking forward to these 'refuelling stops' and meeting your crew makes a big difference. They must be trained to ignore reality and to provide positive comments like 'you're looking great and so fresh,' rather than 'I've seem corpses faster than you did that last section'. The biggest psychological boost I had this year was a pizza takeaway at a 90-mile point! – Hillheader
  • Stick to your own pace strategy and don't get distracted by anyone else's on the day. It's usually my undoing that I run/walk/crawl at someone else's pace and not my own. – Extreme Muzzy
  • I did a treadmill stress test with a sports scientist, and he said threshold sessions were useful for ultra endurance. Obviously you don't run ultras anywhere near threshold, but raising the threshold means you are operating further from it. So even if you work at the same heart rate, you're working at a lower percentage of it, which in principle means it's taking less out of you – hence better endurance in the long run. – ed_m
  • I trained for and ran a 180-mile multi-day trail ultra in May with the help of Mike 'Mad Dog' Schreiber at Training2Run. Apart from the obvious running, he got me to incorporate some sort of 'conditioning' into every waking hour, for example by wearing ankle weights through the day or carrying a weighted backpack whenever possible. Also loads and loads of partial squats that kind of made my quads bomb-proof. The running involved a couple of fast but short (up to seven-mile) runs per week, a hill session running up really slowly and down really fast, and a long run with a backpack, including short frequent walk breaks. It worked. – RespectTheStupidity
  • I think speed sessions work in training for longer distances. I train up to 90 miles a week with two speed sessions, three tempo runs and one long slow run of up to 26 miles, and so far my only injury has been a strained MCL (knee) from landing badly on a rock on a race! Back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays are a very good idea. My plan would be to peak at 23 on Saturday and 25 on Sunday, practising the techniques, fuelling and hydration you plan to use in the ultra. – Choisty
  • Aim to do do three 20-plus sessions in five days just prior to your taper if you can fit them in. – Bear B. Hind
  • I recently did the HP40 (40 miles) and three weeks later the Longmynd Hike (50 miles) at run-walk pace. My training was normal track sessions twice a week, long hill reps four times a week and one hilly 16-20 miler at the weekend – a good mixture to give endurance, strength and speed. – the broker
  • Stick with a marathon approach, but make your long slow run cross-country, and run-walk it so that you're out on your feet moving for up to six every other weekend or so. If you get up early on a Saturday and have your run done by lunchtime, you'll still have a weekend and a beer or three on Saturday night. Going out in the dark is useful, because a lot of ultras include some night running. Just make sure you're looking where you're going! – Nick L
  • I believe that there are mainly two groups of people who run (ultras or otherwise): those who race, and those who "just" run. I am firmly in the "just run" camp. If you just want to complete ultras, I do not believe that there's a necessity to do huge mileage, but I do reckon there are benefits to speed and hill training. I finished the 186-mile Pembroke Coast Path earlier this year on training that was never more that 70 miles a week, and more usually 40-50 miles a week. I can't comment on racing ultras, but, if all you want to do is complete, belief that you can do it is more significant than long-mileage training. Self-believe gives you such a huge psycological edge that the training part becomes less significant. – Colin Watts
  • I don't care about the time – I just want to finish. If you run ultra races you soon find yourself with like-minded people (nutters) talking about 100K events, 50-milers and 24-hour races as completely reasonable. To the rest of the world you are a still nutter, but at least you are amongst friends! I prefer ultras to short races. The people are friendly, you have more time to enjoy the views, and you can walk up the hills! – Richard (Aussie) Crane


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Can anyone help, I want to attempt my first ultra in February, but cannot find any guidance on training. Specifically day-2-day mileage or weekly mileage broken down. Or no takers can anyone suggest a book.
Thanks, oh by the way I'm new to this forum stuff and like it already so anyone answering beware, I might not leave you alone when it comes to your knowledge.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 11:57

i would say, just like marathon training but make all your weekly long runs 20+ miles. don't be afraid to do more than one a week, either.

obviously you might need to build up to that quite slowly and gradually though.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 12:40

probably remove any speedwork from whatver marathon training schedule you use, too. no point risking overtraining or injury.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 12:41

you could have a look at this
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 13:38

looks poor
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 13:42

Make it up as you go along, I do.

But then again I haven't finished an official ultra event.

Extreme Muzzy DNF.
lol
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 13:42

In what way Candy?

No mention of mother's phone numbers or Steve!
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 13:54

crap mileage.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 14:04

ah. it's american. figures!

i think you'd want to do a lot more miles than that, if you have the time. which you almost certainly do, if you make it.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 14:10

Found doing normal marathon training, but building up to back to back 20 miles + useful. Also aim to do do X 3 20+ session in 5 days just prior to taper if can fit them in.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 14:50

Thanks haileunlikely i'll look at that, alot of people say do a marathon training program, but like I said I'm new to this forum lark, any ideas on which and where i can find it
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 15:36

Afternoon all,

I'm using this thread for next week's Reader to Reader article. Seems that increasing numbers of us are giving some thought to the ultra... though in my case, I suspect that "thought" is all it'll ever be.

I'll be interested to follow the responses as they come in. My main question is: where do you find the time to fit in the extra miles? Marathon training is hard enough on the old social/work/sleep diary!
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 15:37

get up a bit earlier, or just cut out the 'wasted' time sitting around doing nothing.

eg it's amazing how much time lots of people waste by just sitting staring at the television, etc.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 15:41

or the PC
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 15:47

definitely. or working.
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 15:50

looked at that schedule again, and i can't really believe it. so for a 50 mile race, they recommend (on average) 50 mile weeks!? kerraazzzeeeee.

you'd be better off building to something like a slow 25 and a slow 20 mile run every week, a medium paced 15 and a tempo-paced 10. that should prepare you pretty well. step back every month or so.

i was doing (usually) 1 x 25 and 4 x 15 miles a week buiding up to a triple ironman recently, and i completely kicked a$$ on the run. the swim and bike were rubbish, but that's not relevant to this discussion! the 4 x 15 were fitting running into commuting - running to and from the train station twice a week.

Posted: 29/10/2006 at 16:10

That's where I went wrong in my last ultra....



I can kick a$$ at swimming or cycling.
:o)
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 17:54

I did a first ultra a hilly 40 miles on about 3 days training a week between 20-30 miles but made sure i did 3 long runs 22, 27 and 29 miles in similar terrain practising nutrition run walk etc. Just under 8 hours and 30th, so not too slow.

I'm not saying this will work for you but I have trained more for marathons and often got injuried.

For me the biggest thing was getting my pace sorted before the day.

Roger
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 18:29

Get a run / walk strategy sussed (unless you are planning to race it and be up there with the top few). It's something I've always had a problem with as I'm too pig-headed to admit to myself that I need to walk. All very well until I'm crawling the last 2 miles on hands and knees.

Your long training runs are very important psychologically. A huge portion of pushing yourself to your limits (and beyond) is a psychological element. If you have done a 30 miler in training you know you needn't worry until well after that mark.

I wouldn't necessarily give up all speedwork as it builds strength, and you need that!
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 18:41

Definitely get your pace strategy worked out, and stick to it.

It is usually my undoing in distance races that I run/walk/crawl at someone elses pace and not my own.

Might I ask which ultra you are doing in February?
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 18:57

Yeah, I'm going to do the Thames Meander as my first only due to the fact that it has a linear feature right from the off, that being the Thames itself, if you don't know you follow the river bank for all but a few miles of the race. Have a look at the link below and if anyone else fancies it e-mail me we'll meet there on the day, or beforehand for training run.
Apparently having a partner is a good tip!!!
www.thamesmeander.co.uk

Posted: 29/10/2006 at 19:58

Er, i dont think the Thames Meander is happening next year Karlos.........
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 20:13

but there is the Tring2Town happening in Feb (linkywinky)
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 20:16

according to there site it's Feb'07 date TBA
Posted: 29/10/2006 at 23:28

I had hoped to do that, but apparently in spite of what the site says it is not happening. Am doing Tring2Town instead. If you can wait why not go for 50 mile challenge (52.4 miles in reality) which is in July near Herne Bay. Brilliant event, great for first timers.
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 10:17

i'm not sure about the "strength" thing, personally. if you break down exacty what you mean by strength, it's actually "recruiting fast twitch muscle fibres" and possibly, depending in what kind of speedwork you do, targeted work on your lactate threshold. i think the point is that neither of these are required for very long runs. unless you are a professional athlete who doesn't have the annoyance of a job, and can sleep for four hours after every session, then there is a play off between doing lots of miles, and doing some speedwork. you can't really do both, without risking injury and overtraining.

hardly a scientific sample, but i've tried doing some speedwork for two ironman seasons (OK its only a marathon, but it kind of equates to an ultra due to the enormous bike ride beforehand) and the results were DISASTEROUS. my average time was something like 2 hours slower than seasons with no speedwork.

then on seasons without any speedwork, the results were great. eg for the triple ironman (which consisted of 39 x 2 mile laps, with a bl**dy big hill at the start) i only did lots of slow miles. and i not only had the fastest run, i had the fastest run by approximately a whole marathon.

and i'm a pretty crap runner, really. it was the training rather than any natural athletic ability that allowed a good result. i'm convinced that mega-mileage, but all at steady pace, is definitely the way to go for ultra training.

of course, you need to build up gradually.
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 10:35

suggestion from a sports scientist who i did a treadmill stress test with was that threshold sessions were useful for ultra endurance....

obviously you dont run ultras anywhere near threshold but raising the threshold means you are operating further from it. i.e. even if you work at the same hr you are working at a lower % of it. which in principle means its taking less out of you hence better endurance in the long run.

that was the theory i think.... havent actually managed to implement this yet.
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 11:31

re: thames meander. it is not on this year. however MOB/ambition events are organising a self supported thames footpath event in its place.
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 11:32

it's a cost-benefit thing I guess. speedwork will definitely have a theoretical benefit, just the cost might be too high. I think, having tried both approaches (more than once, and alternately), that you're much better off ditching speedwork altogether, and doing the miles instead. maybe that's just me though!
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 12:51

I seem to be (unintentionally) trying a third apporach. I seem to have ditched both long runs and speedwork. And RR50 & T2T seem to be getting very close very quickly. Yikes...

(ok, this was just to get this thead on my notifications, but lack of training is becoming a bit of a worry!)
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 15:02

flanker - that's the only way to train ;-)
Posted: 30/10/2006 at 16:20

but i'm sure the tennis has helped flanker ;-)
Posted: 31/10/2006 at 08:19

you haven't seen how lousy I am at tennis.

though picking all those balls out of the net has probably helped core strength.
Posted: 31/10/2006 at 10:45

I trained for and ran a 180 mile multiday trail ultra in may with the help of Mike 'Mad Dog' Schreiber at www.training2run.com Apart from the obvious running, he got me to make every waking hour some sort of 'conditioning' by e.g. wearing ankle weights through the day, a weighted backpack whenever possible etc. Also loads and loads of partial squats that kind of made my quads bomb-proof.
The running involved a couple of fast but short (up to 7 mile) runs per week, a hill session BUT running up really slowly and down really fast, and a long run (with backpack) including short frequent walk breaks.
It worked.
Posted: 31/10/2006 at 16:35

ah.... welcome mister stupidity ;-)
Posted: 31/10/2006 at 19:46

that sounds EVIL mr stupidity
Posted: 31/10/2006 at 19:50

what the 180miles?.... multiday.. pfff ;-)
Posted: 31/10/2006 at 21:51

OK tell me how to do the partial squats, I would like bomb proof quads.

Sore quads after downhills in long races has been a problem before.

Roger

Posted: 31/10/2006 at 22:00

I was told to stand with my heels raised on something about an inch and a half high (is that three centimetres in new money?) and just squat down a few inches so that the thighs didn't reach 45 degree angle. Repeat as many times as you can. At first I could only do fifty or so in one go, but after a while you can do mammoth amounts. I was regularly doing 800 or so after a run, and did 1500 non stop one time.
Do them immediately after every training run as well as at any other time you feel like it.
I would say they definately work, but get a bit mind numbing. Expect to lose count regularly.

If anyone's interested in the run we did (yeah, as if!) there's a sort of write up (pretty cr@p) at
http://www.respectthestupidity.com
Posted: 01/11/2006 at 13:28

Im off to look
I like to read about how nutty other people are
Posted: 01/11/2006 at 13:34

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