How to Train for an Ultra Marathon Race


The following training guide is for those who are interested in the sport of running and hope to seek information and help for competing in an ultra-marathon. This guide is for serious runners willing to devote a major part of their life to the challenge of completing or attempting an ultra-marathon.

The purpose of this training plan is to educate and inform any serious runner who would want to take up the challenge of running an ultra-marathon. Throughout this guide you will gather many tips and methods that will help guide you to achieve your personal goal.

First let’s start out by defining an Ultra-Marathon. An Ultra-Marathon is any sporting event involving running longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometers or 26.2188 miles. The most common distance of an ultra marathon race is 50k or 31.0686 miles.

Developing a purpose

Having a reason or purpose to attempt something as enduring as an ultra-marathon is very important. Without goals or reasons, one has trouble finding motivation to keep moving forward. Inside of everyone there is a fire, and to keep that fire burning, there must something there to fuel it.

Many runners have multiple reasons as to why they run. Some don’t have a clue, and are still out there searching. If you think running is just a form of exercise you’re not entirely right. To some, running is a great social outlet, a momentary escape from the real world, an opportunity to relieve stress, and not to mention a great way to keep your body and mind healthy.

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After completing an Ultra-Marathon I guarantee that you will discover what it is that drives you to get out there and train day in and day out. The experience will be memorable, and certainly unforgettable.

Training Plans:

The following is a 16 week long training program for a 40 mile race. As you can tell, the weekly mileage isn’t very high. What matters is the quality of the weekly long run, and the short and easy recovery days leading up to it.

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Next we have a 50 mile training plan. This particular plan is designed for the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. As you can tell, this plan is designed for the more intermediate runner.

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Things To Remember:

Remember every runner has a different training plan. Different things work for different people. Some people can handle running 100 miles per week while properly recovering from soreness, while other can only handle 20 mile per week.

Altering a training plan is often done to meet your own needs and is highly recommended. It’s important to adjust your training around your body and its current state of fitness condition.

Weight Training/Core/Breathing/Cycling

Only handful of ultra-marathoners lift, but lifting weights and working out your core can only complement your running. Lifting and doing core should be used as a supplement to your running, and not the other way around. Also it should always come secondary to your running. Let running be your primary focus.

Stretching is also every important. This should be done as often as you want/feel necessary, to meet your own standards. It’s recommended to stretch before and after each run.

If you don’t have access to a gym or weight-lifting equipment like weights, don’t worry because there are many exercises that don’t require weights. Exercises that fall underneath this category are push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups.

As simple as it sounds breathing is something can really make a difference if done correctly. If you sometimes have trouble breathing or think your breathing isn’t as good as it could be, consider doing breathing exercises like breathing through a straw during a state of relaxation. This will force you to really intake your maximum lung capacity.

Cycling is also a very good form of exercise, but I find it unnecessary if you’re logging a sufficient amount of miles. If you feel that you need to gain some strength or you are recovering very well, then cycling may very well be a good supplement to your running, just like weight lifting.

CHAPTER 1

Completing a Race of More than 42km

Running an ultra-marathon is not an easy task. People who wish to attempt an ultra-marathon should have completed at least one marathon under their belt. Compared to an ultra-marathon of 90km or more, the 42km marathon is little more than a sprint.

The main difference between marathons and ultra-marathons is the amount of time you spend on your feet. In addition, the degree of discomfort and fatigue that is experienced is substantially worse and must be endured for a longer period.

Many Ultra-Marathons require you to get medically cleared. You must be in healthy shape otherwise you cannot participate. Ultra-Marathon races like the “Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run” and the “Bad Water 135” require you to be medically cleared. In many of these kinds of races you cannot just sign up. Running these races require prerequisites like being medically cleared, having experience, and a crew to follow you around the entirety of the race.

CHAPTER 2

Acclimatizing to Heat

If your race is held somewhere in mild to hot temperatures you better be sure that you trained properly to withstand the heat. The easiest way to acclimatize to heat is to run your longer runs in the heat. If you train in cool conditions but expect to race in the heat, be sure to train with additional layers of clothing, as this is the only way to do so.

Heat stroke is an illness resulting from the heat, usually from extremely high temperatures. A physiological increase of heat occurs in the body, and your body has trouble stabilizing its core temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be life threatening, but can be easily prevented and treated.

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Well-known ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes has completed the hottest ultra-marathon; Bad Water. It’s located in Death Valley where the temperatures climb 130 degrees Fahrenheit. During a race like this you must have your own crew containing water, food and other supplies to reduce your chances of dying.

CHAPTER 3

Acclimatizing to Altitude

Altitude is running when the atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases. As the pressure decreases less oxygen is available for runners to utilize. Altitude can play a very major role in ones race, and their ability to do well.

Dominant ultra-marathon runners in South Africa have usually lived and trained in altitude (1800m), not in the sea-level cities of Cape Town and Durban.

Athletes who live at sea level will always be at a significant disadvantage when racing at those altitudes.

When Ultra-Marathoner Dean Karnazes raced his first ultra-marathon at the “Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run” he showed signs of altitude sickness. He recalls being diagnosed at one of the numerous water/medical stations. At the top of the peak his head grew very light and his fingers swelled up to the point that he trouble opening and closing his hands. He was told by one of the experienced volunteers to make his ascent down the course as quickly as possible to reduce possible harm to him.

Altitude sickness is caused by the ascent to a high altitude and the resulting shortage of oxygen, leading to hyperventilation, nausea, exhaustion, cerebral edema, and along with many other effects. To prevent altitude sickness it would be best to train at a very similar altitude,  like that of the race.

CHAPTER 4

Taper Your Training

One of the most important parts of having a successful race is to taper your training properly. It is believed that the longer the race distance, the more important the taper becomes and the longer it should be.

Taper means to diminish or reduce towards the end of something. When tapering your training you are reducing your volume and intensity meaning everything should feel a lot easier, and your body should feel a lot fresher.

Tapering your training at the right time is extremely important. Every runner tapers their training differently and at a different time. In the training programs I provided, you can easily spot the points of tapering. They can be seen a few weeks leading up to the race, especially the week of the race.

CHAPTER 5

Race Pace

Correct pacing is essential for any race. But the consequence of poor pacing in an ultra-marathon is always devastating.

One effective and popular method would be going after a safer approach such as aiming to run the first half of your ultra-marathon about 10 to 30 minutes slower than the halfway time predicted by this method. When you race your second ultra-marathon, you will then be able to run slightly faster over the first half of the race and come closer to your best ideal time.

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When going out at a more conservative pace you are more likely to run a better race. Your chances of “dying” become much slimmer. Ironically almost no runner willingly follows that advice until they discover it the hard way.

When or if you run your second ultra-marathon you will be able to predict your race pace better and will most likely run closer to your ideal goal time.

CHAPTER 6

Carbohydrate Loading

Eating is a very important topic when it comes to running, especially when it comes to running an ultra-marathon. Eating properly can either make or break you.

Consuming carbohydrates contains a very important substance called glycogen. Its been proven countless times that muscle glycogen is essential for endurance performance because its depletion causes exhaustion. Foods that contain a lot of carbohydrates are: pasta, bread, potatoes, and waffles.

Hypoglycemia is defined as a deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream.

To avoid developing hypoglycemia, Ingest an adequate amount of carbohydrates in the 12 hours before the race. Also make sure that you eat a pre-race meal and ingest carbohydrates such as bread or waffles during the race.

Here’s an interesting fact, in long ultra-marathons of 160km or further, fewer amounts of carbohydrates are needed to prevent hypoglycemia because the running speeds are so much slower.

CHAPTER 7

Mentally Preparing/Rehearsing

Running takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental endurance. Visiting the course can be very beneficial and is done quite often. Before your race you should think about the entirety of the course. You should know exactly where each hill or other landmarks are. Running the course physically (obviously not entirely) is something done by many runners.

According to the book, “Lore of Running” by Timothy D. Noakes, in the final week before his race Ultra-Marathon runner Bruce Fordyce would go into virtual seclusion, cut off from the outside world.

Visualizing is something done by many runners. Keep in mind that visualization is like not hypnosis. When visualizing it’s important to be 100% positive. Think happy thoughts like crossing the finish line and feeling good.

A good way to rehearse the race through your mind would be to segment the race into manageable sections. Almost like reading a book; have a beginning, middle and end. This form of visualization can be very effective.

CHAPTER 8

Gear/Clothing

Wearing the correct clothing is essential to racing well and staying comfortable. The right choice of clothing is essential. Always bring extra clothing. Be prepared for any kind of weather. You can always strip down if you need to. You never want to race in something especially shoes if you’ve never run in them or trained in them before. This just spells a recipe for disaster.

Sunscreen is vital, especially since you are going to be out there for hours on end. Baby powder and lubricant is also great to have to prevent from getting blisters/irritation on your skin, specifically your feet.

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CHAPTER 9

Rest/Sleep

Just like your diet and water consumption, your sleep also needs to be regulated. In order to gain maximum benefits, you should try to keep your sleeping as consistent as possible, just like your training.

They say the average man should get at least 7 hours a sleep a day. An ultra-marathoner is in no way considered average. I would recommend getting at least 9 hours of quality sleep.

CHAPTER 10

Preparing for the Start

When arriving to the start make sure that you and your crew have everything, from clothing to water. Aim to find a starting position that will allow you to start running within the first few hundred meters of the starting line. This shouldn’t be that hard to do, due to the fact the field of runners are a fraction compared to of that of a marathon.

Plan accordingly to the weather. Get weather reports and follow up them. The weather plays a major role to what you wear the day of the race. It’s always better to be prepared, than to be under prepared. When it comes to clothing, you can always take off layers.

Chapter 11

Running a Good Race

In order to run a good race, almost everything needs to be perfect. All of the right ingredients need to mixed right. You need to make sure that you are healthy. One thing that you need to make sure is that you are pacing correctly. Keep tabs on your splits and make sure that you’re not running too fast.

Make sure that you are drinking a sufficient amount of water and that your sodium levels are balanced with your water intake. What you eat during your race is very important. Make sure that you are consuming a proper amount of food and that that food that you are consuming reflects well towards your race. Another thing that you need to do is you must make sure that you are thinking positively and that your mental state of mind is healthy.

Chapter 12

After Your Race

Every runner looks back at the races they had, good and bad. Looking back at your performance is very important. You should look back and see what you accomplished and also see what you could have done better on.

Look back and look for problems or issues you face. Ask yourself, “why did this happen”, or “what can I do better next time”. Studies show that 5%-10% of finishers in ultra-marathons seek medical attention after they race.

The most common serious case of collapse in ultra-marathon runners is the hyponatremia of exercise (water intoxication). The most immediate problem associated with this condition is that excess fluid stored in the brain causes a progressive loss of consciousness, leading to epileptic seizures and ultimately death when either breathing or the heart beat ceases.

It is extremely crucial to recover properly after your race. It is suggested that you take 3 months off running along with any other forms of exercise. It is also suggested that you only race an ultra-marathon once a year to prevent serious damage to yourself.

6 Responses to “How to Train for an Ultra Marathon Race”

  1. Katie says:

    Great training plan. In December I’m going to try a 50 miler for the first time, wish me luck!

  2. Scott says:

    On your 50 mile plan you have a 16 miler scheduled 4 days before?! And at MP? That’s crazy… Taper, taper, taper…

  3. find due date says:

    Why do some coaches charge more for an ultramarathon training plan than a marathon plan (or any other distance)?

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