Coach Gary’s 5 Tips for Ultra-Trail Australia

With the biggest trail running event in the Southern Hemisphere selling out at record speed, there’s clearly a huge desire from people wanting to tackle off-road running races in Australia. It’s the combination of epic landscapes and an equally awesome physical and mental challenge that motivates so many folks to toe the line at this iconic festival of trails. With this rise in popularity comes a host of newbies, each tackling the beast with trepidation and excitement. So we thought we would ask one of the best coaches in the game, Gary Howard of Run Crew ( for his tips for newcomers to the event.

1. Start Training Now

Every year we are inundated with Coaching requests in the final 8 weeks before the race. Of course finishing is still achievable, but that’s not compatible with our level of commitment. Our goal as coaches is to prepare our runners to finish safely and equally as important, recover well so you can all return to running again afterwards.

My advice is to get into a good training routine now. Always think ahead, what’s next? I’d think conditioning the body first, then build, then specific, then taper, then race, then recover. Of course there needs to be a cross over of build and specific. If starting from a low training base use caution. Start with short easy runs, with a focus to build frequency of runs during the conditioning period. Next prioritise the longest run each week, then specific and intensity. The length and balance of each training period will depend on your history and progression. If in doubt use the 10% increase in volume rule per week.

2. Get a Nutrition Strategy

Nutrition is as important as the training. At every ultra and every marathon also for that matter, the major reason for failure, apart from being under trained is poor nutrition. Practice, practice, practice. No fads, no depletion, consult a Dietitian immediately who is experienced with endurance running and get started practicing now to avoid race day disaster.

3. Include Speed Work

Intervals, hill reps, fartlek/tempos are all beneficial for any distance event. Shorter intervals work well during the conditioning period, e.g. 6×1min efforts (75sec rest), progressing over two weeks to 10x1min (1min rest). Don’t force these, think of them as making you a more economical runner as you move towards the specific block. Then start incorporating hill repeats, then longer intervals, tempos/fartlek/hilly tempos. The best ultra runners in the world include speed work in their weekly schedule.

4. Get specific

Enjoy hitting the trails, get used to running without rhythm, you won’t find any on race day. Train on bush stairs, up and down hills – supplement this with regular strength training and slowly incorporate downhill/eccentric loading when you have a good fitness base beneath you. The longer your anticipated race duration, and the less experience you have, the more time on feet you’ll need out of your longer trail runs. Some of our best runners, including multiple winners and podiums at UTA included up to 3x 8hrs ‘time on feet’ in preparation for their debut 100km. Now after many successful blocks of training, those same runners can race 100 miles successfully off 3x5hr runs. Don’t force those runs, practice hiking, practice nutrition, practice with equipment, practice in the dark – these are the most effective runs, be happy.

5. Recover as well as you Train – prehab is better than rehab!

Training is important, but take care of yourself. Sleep and eat well. Roll/massage/strength sessions regularly. Modulate your training, flat lines and progressively increasing weekly volume are a recipe for failure. I like our beginner runners to have an absorption week every 3rd week and our stronger runners every 4th to 6th week. Don’t wait until you’re exhausted and definitely don’t wait until the taper to practice modulation – you will almost certainly get sick.

5a – Have fun!

Running is awesome and this is one of the great events, we look forward to seeing you all out there.

Looking for a squad to get you ready for the big day? Then check out Run Crew. They’re one of the most successful training groups at UTA and cater for all ages and abilities.