5 Key Sessions for Ultra Runners

Training for your first ultra marathon or just looking for a few new ideas to help get more out of your body? Well we’ve canvassed several of the world’s leading athletes and coaches and have come up with five fundamental sessions that should form part of your schedule.

1. Race Pace Long Run

Getting your mind and body conditioned to the pace you want to race at is one of the most important things you can do in training. Track athletes use this particularly often, for example a 1,500m runner might run 1,200m at goal pace so they can be confident of hitting the same mark on race day. For ultra runners, it’s good to do a goal pace run of approximately 50% of your race distance. So if you plan to run 100km in 12 hours, then 5 to 8 weeks prior to the event it’s a good idea to do a 50km effort, on similar terrain, in 6 hours. And don’t forget to carry all the mandatory gear you’ll have to lug around in the race.

2. Hill Reps

Conditioning your body to the rigours of an ultra is done in various ways, including lead up races, doing weights or racking up plenty of long runs. However one of the best methods for getting your quads prepared for the impact and subsequent fatigue is to do hill reps – both up hill and down. The distances and steepness should vary, depending on what your chosen race is going to throw at you. If it’s a flat course, then opt for shorter (200-400m) climbs and descents that are fairly tame. For mountain epics such as UTMB, you’ll want to do some long (1km – 4km) steep hills. The number of reps is dependant on distance. A good rule is to do a maximum volume of 8km of efforts. So if the hill is 400m long, then no more than 20 reps. If it’s 4km, then a couple of efforts is ample.

3. Power Hiking

This is targeted more at those doing mountain races, or quite new to running and expecting they will be walking during the race. In events with plenty of vertical gain, even the best in the world often find themselves hiking. So it’s very important to practice it in training. It might sound strange that you should condition yourself to walking, but there’s hiking, and then there’s power hiking. A good power hiker can move surprisingly fast up hill and on the really steep stuff it’s often more efficient to hike than it is to run. Also, if you haven’t done it much in training, it can feel quite strange to have to alternate between running and walking. This means you really should add a weekly session where you deliberately find some steep hills and walk them….fast!

4. Weighted Run

Whether the event you are doing has mandatory gear or not, doing fortnightly weighted runs will have a huge impact on your leg strength. For long training runs, the weight of the pack should be at a minimum the same as you expect to carry on race day. Ideally, you want it a little heavier. However, if you really want results, get your hands on a weighted vest and with 10-12kg on your torso, do a fortnightly 60 to 90 minute fast hike. You could even pop some very short jogs into the run to really smash your quads. When doing this, the important thing is to build into it. Gradually increase the weight and distance you do over a couple months, and also allow your body to recover. You’ll need a few easy days to absorb the punishment.

5. Double Long Run

The double long run is particularly good for those that either find doing a single, really long run takes too much out of them, or they just can’t find the time to do one big haul. If possible, try to do those longer efforts only once every few weeks, then on the other two weeks do one ‘shorter’ long run, and one ‘double’ long run. If you’re preparing for a 100km race, a good guide for a double is to try 2 x 30-40km runs. For a miler, a couple 50-60km efforts is ample. The trick here is to take it easy, don’t go smashing the first day and then dragging yourself through day two. The goal isn’t to hit race pace, instead you want to simply get use to spending a long time on tired legs – which is what you’ll be going through when you race! Also, between the runs, make the effort to recover as best possible. Rehydrate, refuel and sleep.