7 Ultra Marathon training tips

Believe it or not, running and training for an ultramarathon can be fun if you do it properly.  For runners that are used to speed work and PBs, it’ll be time for some mental adjustment: ultra running is all about being slow and steady and conquering the infamous wall – multiple times.  Follow these 7 tips and you’ll find yourself loving the freedom you get from long-distance running.

1. Time > Distance

Instead of planning your training around distances, plan it around time.  Preparing for an ultramarathon is all about getting used to spending many hours on your feet.  Scratch out the 25k run from your Sunday schedule, and put in a 3-hour session instead. You can hike or walk part of it if you need to, but make sure you keep moving for the full time.

2. Cross train

Spending so many hours on your legs each week will increase your risk of injury. Reduce this risk by adding some cross-training sessions into your calendar. This can be a morning swim or a bike ride – anything that keeps your heart rate going without pounding your legs. It’ll strengthen other muscles and allow your running muscles to recover while maintaining your cardio training.  One yoga session per week will also work wonders.

3. Train on trails

Most ultramarathons are not on flat ground, so make sure you train accordingly.  Running on trails will use muscles in your legs you didn’t even know existed, and you’ll find yourself with aches on the sides of your calves and your inner thighs. If you don’t live near trails, spend one of your training sessions each week in the gym doing some targeted leg exercises or climbing on the stair machine.  

4. Rest & Recover

Increasing your mileage will take its toll on your body, so make sure you’re adjusting your sleep schedule and nutritional intake accordingly. Sleep is critical for injury prevention and muscle recovery, so rather than cutting your sleep time by two hours to get a running session in before work, make sure you are going to bed two hours earlier. Within 40 minutes of the end of your long runs, eat or drink some protein to aid with muscle recovery. 

5. Become friends with the wall

Running for 6+ hours at a time means hitting the infamous wall will be inevitable. In fact, you’ll probably hit it multiple times. Become friends with it. It’s very important during an ultra run that you stay positive – it’s impossible to go that long without feeling tired and ready to stop, but knowing that it will get better (which it always does) can be a very powerful motivator.  Once you’re through the dark patch, life will feel great again. Anton Krupicka, Leadville 100 winner and all-round epic ultramarathon runner, says: “If you’re NOT having fun that doesn’t mean that you’re failing. You’re just building character.”

6. Water and food and water and food

During long runs, it’s critical to keep eating and drinking. It doesn’t matter what you eat; everybody’s body reacts differently – find a food that doesn’t make you feel sick when you’re running. For some people, that is gels, and, for others, it’s a full-on BLT sandwich. Slow-release carbs and salty foods to replenish salt lost in sweat will be especially useful. 

7. Slow is king

Start as slow as possible, and then go even slower. You’ll have plenty of time to speed up 50km into the run if you’re feeling good. Remember that you’re in it for the long-haul, so lace up, take it easy and enjoy the ride. Finding a running companion can transform your enjoyment of a long run.

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