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Manon (author) running at the Ultra Trail Cape Town

Ultra marathon training: How to successfully tackle these epic events

Ultramarathons are a truly life-long experience. In part, because of their sheer distance, but also because they tend to take you to some of the most amazing corners the world. While I can’t recommend the distance enough, they’re a significant undertaking and one which require a well-structured training plan.

My last major ultramarathon was the Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km – a day which will stay with me for life. While the finish-line feeling was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, it was the build-up, the training, the recovery, and the friends which really got me through.

When it comes to training plans, these are really just a guide, not a requirement. The below is the training plan which I used in my preparation for the UTCT event. However, you should feel free to morph it to suit your own needs and, ultimately, use this ultra marathon training plan as a loose baseline. When training for an ultra marathon, I usually start around 16-weeks out from the event and so my plan is broken down weekly across that period.

Ultra Marathon Training – Glossary

As with any training plans, it’s never as simple as just getting out there and running. So, there are few terms in the plan that I should explain first.

  • Easy Pace (EP): this should be around 70% of your usual marathon pace, and you should be able to talk easily while running.
  • Steady Pace (SP): this closer to 80% of your marathon pace, and will likely have you slightly out of breathe while still being able to run consistently.
  • Fast Pace (FP): in this context, your fast pace should be the pace you’d usually run a marathon in.
  • Max Pace (MP): this is what it says on the tin, as fast as you can go.
  • Active Recovery (AR): being active in a way that promotes recovery rather than intensity.
  • HIIT: High intensity interval training

Training for an ultra marathon is hard enough without being overwhelmed with confusing acronyms, so I hope these should help to explain exactly what to do when you’re reading through the training plan.

Ultra marathon Training Plan

MonTueWedThursFriSatSun
1Run
4 mile run – EP
Workout
Walk, cross
training, weights
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
30 minute
weights session.
30 minute
circuits
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
7-9 mile run – SP.
Don’t worry, it
gets easier!
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
2Run
5-8 mile,
middle 3 miles
at FP
Workout
Cross training,
weights
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Cross training,
weights
Run
50 mins EP
Run
7-9 mile run – SP
middle 3 at
marathon pace
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
3Run
5-8 mile,
middle 3 miles
at FP
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
30 minute
weights session.
30 minute
circuits
Run
50 mins – EP
Run
7-9 mile run – SP
middle 3 at
marathon pace
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
4Run
7-8 mile
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Cross training,
weights
Run
40 mins – EP
Run
10 mile run – SP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
5Run
7-8 mile
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Run
40 mins – EP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
Half Marathon – Race
Get used to the atmosphere
6Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
6 miles – EP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Run
50 mins – EP
Run
1.5 hr run – MP.
Take drinks and
gels. 1st gel at
about 45 mins.
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
7Run
7-8 mile
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Run
50 mins – EP
Run
2 hr run – MP. Take
drinks and gels.
1st gel at 1 hour
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
8Run
7-8 mile
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Run
50 mins – EP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
Half Marathon – Race
Get used to the atmosphere
9Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Run
6 mile – SP
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Run
2.5hr – FP
Run
2.5 hr – FP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
10Run
5km – FP
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
10mins – EP
12mins – SP
12mins – FP
10mins – EP
Run
40 mins – SP
Run
2.5 hr – FP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
11Run
5 mile – SP
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
1.5 hr run
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
3.5 hour run or
20-25 miles
under marathon
pace
12Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Workout
Stretch. Yoga,
pilates or
low impact
workout
Run
10mins – EP
12mins – SP
12mins – FP
10mins – EP
Workout
30 minute
weights session.
30 minute
circuits
Run
40 mins – SP
Run
3 hr – EP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
13Run
5 mile – SP
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Run
10mins – EP
12mins – SP
12mins – FP
10mins – EP
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Run
30 mins – SP
Run
2 hr – EP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
14Run
8 mile – EP
Workout
Cardio session,
HIIT, spinning
Run
10mins – EP
12mins – SP
12mins – FP
10mins – EP
Workout
30 minute
weights session.
30 minute
circuits
Run
40 mins – SP
Run
1hr 30 min – EP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
15Run
5 mile – SP
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym
Run
20 mins – EP
Workout
Strength session,
yoga, pilates,
gym, or activity
of your choice
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
30 mins – FP
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
16Run
20 min – EP
Run
Easy 5 mile jog
Rest Day
Active recovery,
walking &
stretching
Run
Easy 3 mile jog
Rest Day
Stay off your
feet
Rest Day
Best of luck! Fuel
your body –
you’ll smash it.
Race Day
You made it
.

Let’s Do This.

More of a training plan stuck to your wall type person? Me too. Luckily, our entire training plan – and more – can be downloaded as a PDF.

Ultra marathons – The Event

Booking your first ultra marathon can be scary. But, if need further convincing – I can confirm that these are genuinely life-changing, epic experiences. That said, if it’s your first time entering an event of more than 42.2km, then I’d recommend finding something that really lights a fire inside you.

When the going gets tough, you’re going to ask yourself: ‘why am I doing this?’. So, when booking your first ultra marathon, make sure you’ve got a good answer at the ready.

Share the excitement!

Manon's an experienced ultra runner, who has completed the Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km, ran the Belgian coast from France to Holland and competed in the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. Now, she enjoys adventuring in her own backyard and using her weekend's for running and cycling adventures with friends.

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