How to Train for Your First Ultra Marathon

People already think you're crazy for running marathons, and now you tell them you want to run an ultra. An ultra marathon is defined as anything longer than a marathon, although many ultra runners would argue the distance starts at 50K and that timed events don't count.

A successful first ultra is one where you:

1.    Finish.
2.    Don't get hurt.
3.    Have fun.

Here is how you can accomplish that:

The Preparation

1. Enter and pay for your ultra. Give yourself at least three months to prepare. If you've already signed up for the race, that's a great motivator.

2. Lose weight. For every pound you lose, you can gain about two minutes in an ultra (if you are lean, skip to the next step). Imagine running 50K while carrying a 10 to 20 pound weight. You can train harder without those extra pounds.

3. Do back-to-back long runs once a week. Estimate your time for finishing the ultra and build up to running those total hours over two days. You want to run the full distance (combining back-to-back days) at least three or four times before the race.

For example, if you think you will finish in six hours, run three hours on Saturday and three hours on Sunday. Or four hours on Saturday and two hours on Sunday. Or five hours and one hour. Mix it up.

Sunday will be painful at first, but after you get warmed up it will feel easier. A great free program to follow is the Santa Clarita Ultra Training program.

4. Practice your nutrition during training and find out what works best for you. Quick tip: Start drinking before you get thirsty.

5. Practice running efficiently, with as little wasted motion as possible. Try to keep your head as still as possible and raise your feet as little as necessary. However, if the trail is extremely technical, it may be necessary to raise your feet quite a bit to avoid stumbling and tripping. Try to always run quietly.

6. Find socks, clothes and shoes that you love for training and racing. You want to be comfortable. Buy multiple pairs, because you can be sure they will be discontinued.

7. Train on the terrain you'll be racing. If it's a hilly technical trail, train on hilly technical trails. If it's a flat ultra on pavement, train on that at least some of the time. Do a 10K tempo run once a week at a faster pace. Run hills once a week to get strong.

8. If you need them, take recovery days. A typical week could be:

Monday - Off
Tuesday - 10K tempo
Wednesday - Off
Thursday - 1 hour hill workout
Friday - Off
Saturday - 3 hour long run
Sunday - 3 hour long run (or a four hour and two hour, or five hour and one hour)

Let's say your ultra is at the end of June. You want to be able to run your distance, over two days, by the end of April. Give yourself time to work up to that.

In May, you can run the distance three times and take it easy on the last weekend. In June, you can run it the first two weekends, taper the third weekend and run your ultra the fourth weekend.

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