1. Start with a solid base
Before beginning your ultra marathon training, make sure you have a solid base of running fitness. This means gradually building up your mileage and running regularly for several months to a year before beginning specific ultra marathon training begins. During the base training phase, focus on lots of easy runs, don’t worry about the fast stuff as this phase is all about conditioning your body to impact and getting some aerobic fitness.
2. Incorporate strength and cross-training
In addition to running, make sure to incorporate strength training and cross-training into your training regime. This can help prevent injuries, build overall fitness, and improve your running form. Cycling and swimming are great ways to improve cardio fitness without the impact of running. When it comes to strength work, start light and focus on good technique. Very slowly increase the weight and move towards 3 to 4 sets of 6 reps of heavy lifting. The best power exercises are squats, deadlifts and lunges.
3. Focus on endurance
Ultra marathons require a high level of endurance, so make sure to prioritize long runs and increasing your weekly mileage over time. The more time you can spend on your feet the better, but you need to slowly build the volume up. A weekly long run should be the priority, with the goal to build towards running for approximately 50-80% of your race distance on at least one occasion prior to Raceday. The shorter the race, the longer the long run relative to race distance. As a guide, if your race is 50km, then your goal should be to do a minimum of 30km as your long run and a maximum of 40. For 100km the minimum should be 50km and maximum 70km.
4. Train on terrain similar to your race
If possible, do as much of your running as possible on surfaces similar to what you’ll encounter during your race. This can help you prepare for the challenges of the course, such as hills or technical terrain. This is particularly important if the event has a lot of mountains or stairs, or if it has plenty of technical single track.
5. Practice pacing
Pacing is key in an ultra marathon, so make sure to practice running at a pace close to your goal race intensity over long distances during your training. It’s good to get a feel for what it’s like to move at that rate, understanding how your body reacts to it and how your equipment moves as you run. Try to do this when you have a small amount of fatigue in your legs, because it will better replicate what it will be like part way into your race. Plus, keep in mind that when it does come to the big day, you’ll be rested and feel a lot stronger.
6. Fuel and hydrate properly
Proper nutrition and hydration are crucial for ultra marathon training and racing. During training you need to practice fueling and hydrating during your long runs and experiment with different products to find what works best for you. Mix it up and try using a variety of energy sources and see how your stomach reacts. Also, when training it’s important to make sure you eat well and rehydrate after workouts.
7. Rest and recover
Rest and recovery are just as important as training. Make sure to schedule rest days into your training plan, get enough sleep, and incorporate recovery activities such as foam rolling and stretching. Sleep is the most important thing, followed by eating well (Which often means upping the protein and iron) plus some massage and stretching. Remember, the only training you benefit from is the training that you recover from!
8. Build mental toughness
Ultra marathons can be mentally challenging, so make sure to incorporate mental training into your preparation. Practice positive self-talk, visualization, and other techniques to help you stay focused and motivated during the race. Have a mantra you use when the going is tough and employ tactics like rewarding yourself at checkpoints, using music as a motivator and always remind yourself that the experiences you work hardest for, are often the most rewarding.
9. Have a race-day plan
Plan out your race-day strategy ahead of time, including pacing, nutrition, hydration, and any other logistics such as gear changes or crew support. Get to know the course in as much detail as possible and educate your support crew about what to expect and what you need. Make sure you have all the little things sorted, from how you’ll be getting to the start line and what schedule you want to keep to once the gun goes, to plan b’s incase you start having issues like cramp or nausea.
10. Stay flexible
No matter how well you prepare, things can still go wrong during an ultra marathon. Stay flexible and be prepared to adjust your plan as needed during the race. This can mean changing shoes, eating different things, adjust the pace you wanted to run or getting through the race without your crew. Stay positive whatever is going on, as things change quickly and one minute you may be sick, and then the next you feel fine. At the end of the day – just keep fighting!