Reader To Reader: Ultra Training


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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