How do you train for an ultra marathon?

Hi there,

I completed my first marathon this april (VLM), and only actually started running last year. But I am completely hooked at it, and am now looking for something new to challenge myself, and am finding myself drawn to the whole ultra-marathon scene.

I am aiming to run an ultramarathon in January 2011-it is 45 miles. Basically, I was hoping for some advice as to how to train for this.

I normally run a long run on sunday....i'm building gradually back up and am now on the 14 mile mark.

I do an interval speed session on thursday, and a tempo run (normally averaging 5 miles) on tuesday....other days, I tend to swim.

I don't think this training regime is adequate though....should I be doing several long runs in one week?

What should my weekly mileage be exactly? and speed? sorry with all the questions, but I feel a bit unsure as to what I'm doing!

Hope you can help image




  • HI

    a 50 mile plan

    this is a training plan that I have been loosely planning my training around..........It follows on from being marathon you could follow a marathon training schedule first or just adapt this one...........

    It works on a longish run on the saturday followed by about 10miles on the sunday which will be on tired legs........

    I'm not very experienced but i'm sure someone more qualified will come along with some better advice...

    good luck..image

  • ClagClag ✭✭✭
    I have no idea personally but there are some more experienced runners on Shades marathon thread who could offer good advice I am sure. Pop in and say hello.
  • I started running a bit in the summer of 08. Started regular running in Jan 09 and completed my first marathon in Sep 09. First ultra in Dec 09, and have since completed 8 more with plenty booked for the future.

    I'm not a good runner, carry too much weight (not fat, I'm just big, 6'3") and initially found it very difficult. However, I was hooked from early on, and always knew that I wanted to run ultras. As a consequence, I've done too much too soon on a couple of occasions and suffered some mild injuries. Generally though, I've been patient and increased gradually. Don't rush, and allow your bones and joints to strenthen, which takes time.

    For me, the biggest improvements have certainly come from increasing training volume. Most of my runs are currently around the 10 mile mark and I often run twice a day (commuting). I find it very difficult to run long at the weekends around the suberbs where I live, so I tend to enter a lot of ultra races just for the training benefits. There are only a few races which I actually taper for with the intetion of setting a decent time.

    I also think consistency is important, Reduce your weekly mileage every so often, but otherwise maintain a soild base year round.

    I personally don't structure my training very much anymore, as I find it too restrictive and frustrating. Fast running is hard work and pretty unenjoyable, but I force myself to do at least one fast run every fortnight and enter a short race every couple of months just to help with speed and form. Otherwise all of my running is in the 07:30 to 09:30 range on training runs and I don't worry about pace too much. I concentrate more on covering distance.

    Just keep plugging away and do what feels right. Search internet blogs, books, mags etc for ideas on what other runners do to train. Maybe consider entering some events before Jan, just to get a feel for longer distance without putting yourself under any pressure to perform well. I find entering events is the easiest way to train. Pouding the streets where you live for 50 miles at a weekend is pretty grim unless you live somewhere inspiring.

    I'm waffling....good luck!

  • Dino , great to hear your story. I am facing my first ultra 50k this weekend. What is the longest run you have done out of formal racing events?  and did you find initialy that it took a longer time to recover than after a regular marathon?
  • The longest run I've done outside of a race is 23 miles. Although, as it happens I'm planning an 8hr run this Friday night in preparation for an upcoming race. This is mainly because I don't have any long races planned for the next six weeks due to family commitments. I also want to get some time in with the headtorch as I haven't done any night running for about six months.

    I recover quite well now, although when I first started running it did take me a while to recover. I think the volume of training definitely helps here. Two runs a day, or running 5-7 days a week soon conditions the body to recover. However, I always try to listen to my body and I'm not afraid to take a day off if I don't feel great (which usually means having a niggle or being particularly sore, as I often run when tired - good preparation for ultras). Even after a hard event, I'll usually try to get out for a few miles either the following day or at worst the day after, usually at a plod. I prefer that to taking too many days off.

    Best of luck at the weekend.

  • Thanks a lot to everyone for your comments image

    That's helped a lot.

    Seren nos, like the look of the 50 mile training plan, cheers for that.

    Thanks Clag for your help too, and Dino I, thank you ever so much! Fab advice, and you weren't waffling image

    Training volume is certainly something I will take on board. I run 3 days a week so think I will up this to 5 days at least, And, that was very useful about pace, as I always feel I should be running fast flat out, but for ultras, I can see that distance is more the thing. Will start getting myself running when tired too image

    And Fizziokin, all the best with your ultra 50K this weeknd....image


  • Hi Kathy

    I dont want to confuse you but as someone who only runs 3 days a week a slightly diffrent view. Ive used the FIRST system for 3 years (3 times a week) and the runs are similar to what you do but decided like you to do an ultra (Comrades in SA ) The plans and the time needed was not practical so used FIRST up to October then ran my qualifier marathon. Being marathon fit I then just pushed on with 20 milers most weekends plus the 2 quicker runs. Post Christmas still ran 3 times a week but between Jan- March did 3 x 26 1 x 30 (race) and 1 x 35 (race) I completed Comrades in 10.23 and found it hard but OK

    Hope that helps

  • Have a look at this training blog, Eric regularly competes at the front end ( Winning some ) of some of the Worlds toughest ultras. You can see what he has done every day for the last 13 weeks in preparation for his next race, 100km in the Taklamakan desert in China.
  • Hi Kathy,

    The link that seren nos sent was the one I used for my first 50miler on trails this year. It is a good schedule to learn from.

    Make sure you learn to eat real foods beside gels.
  • Hi Kathy 

    To some extent your training regime must be dictated by what your body can withstand, since you have been running for a relativley short period.  I did my first 35 miler less than a year after I took up running for the first time and I had to fit the training into a relativley short period since I was coming off an injury.  My regime had to be something of a tradeoff. 

    For a marathon you can prety much print a plan off the internet, but for an event of this type you have to tailor the plan around yourself and your circumstances.  For example you would want to train as far as possible on a similar type of terain to that on which the race will take place.  If you are going to use a strategy that involves running and walking then it is desireable to train for this.  If you are going to carry a hydration pack then you should certainly do a twenty mile training run with it to make sure you dont have issues with it rubbing or failing to feed. 

  • The above is all great advice.

     I was in a similar position a couple of years ago, and ran my first 50 mi within 10 months of starting running. 

     I would highlight the following from the advice above:

    • Volume.  Run as much as you can.  High volume will mean that you train on tired legs and with depleted glycogen routinely.  This is particularly important if you can't manage / don't want to do regular "back to back" long runs.
    • Learn to eat real food, not just gels.  Oh yes... great point.  Gels and sports drinks are fine up to a point, but if you want to go long you must eat real food.  Don't forget to drink plenty of water.
    • Enjoy it!!
  • Hey guys.....thanks very much for your very good advice!

    I feel very inspired as a couple of you have said that you had to fit your training into a short period of time, and Purdey, running an ultra in just 10 months after starting running is amazing!

    I think that is a great point you have made about eating real food image I have never used gels etc. before anyway as it seems so unnatural to me.

    I have just recently bought a racing bike so have been getting into triathlons a bit recently but I will definitely still aim to do an ultra next year.....probs the 50mile london one in Feb.

    Thanks a lot again to you all image

  • Don't wish to hijack the thread, but I'm another potential ultra-runner. Going to see how the Snowdonia Marathon goes in October, but have some ideas for 2011 that would involve me going further image

    The link to the training plan looks very achievable, Seren. But I'm curious about the "proper" food. What would people recommend I try to munch on my first few extra-long runs? I was thinking of starting with dried fruit and nuts, but would they be calorific enough?
  • mowzermowzer ✭✭✭
    Hi Kathy 123 and Frodo.
    Take a look at the LDWA website. They organise lots of different distance events and you can walk or run or run/walk as you choose. You'll meet lots of friendly runners who'll be more than willing to share their knowledge. Marshalls are always great and you'll get a chance to try lots of 'real food' at the checkpoints. You can use these events as your LSRs - they are ideal when training for an ultra.
    Good luck.
  • Hey mowzer...thanks very much for recommending having a look at the LDWA website.....I never knew there was such a thing!

    Frodo-good luck with the Snowdonia Marathon-blimey that must be a toughie I should imagine!

    Real food?? I'm a bit unsure too, and was also thinking of dried fruit and nuts (nuts especially as they are a bit more sustaining.) What about peanut butter sandwiches, or would something like that be a bit too hard going e.g. might make you feel bloated and queasy.?

  • debbodebbo ✭✭✭
    I've used the same schedule that Seren posted for my only ultra so far - got round ok despite an injury

    I tend to eat nutrigrain bars, marmite sandwichs and chocolate on long runs - yum!
  • Frodo, Kathy

    Since you have asked about nutrition I will tell you a bit about what has worked for me. 

    Your principal problems are hydration and maintaining electrolyte ballence.  You should drink prety much constantly even when you are not thirsty to keep yourself hydrated.  This means that you can effectivley kill two birds with one stone by putting electrolyte tablets in the water.  I use the nunn ones which alter the flavour of the water slightly but are prety inocuous.   

    Real food means precisely that.  The duration of the race would normaly take in one major meal of the day even if you spent it in front of the television.  You cannot simply rely on power gels to carry you round.  I carry jelly babies and cola flavourd gums to snack on while I am moving and also some salty pretzls.  I also have power bars in case I want something more subbstantial.  Somtimes you just have to get what you can.  At the aid stations I will just grab whatevers available whether its good bad of indifferent nutritionaly, and scoff it.  At one aid station I stuffed three packets of crisps down my throat in about two minutes.  I have even heard stories of people going into the local chip shop and getting a bag of chips to eat on the run. 

    Diet in the days leading up to the race is critical to sucess.  On the day before the race you should ideally be consuming 100 grams of carbohydrate for every 10 kg of body weight, and you should build up to this gradualy over the previous days.  I weigh 75 kg so I basicaly have to eat about 750g of pasta.  To be honest, the thing that I found hardest about the training for my first ultra was the endless piles of pasta I had to work my way through.  As well as packing in the carbs you need to work magnesium into your diet to improvey your bodys ability to store glycogen.  Brocoli and brazil nuts are both good sources of magnesium.  You might also want to look at taking a b complex pill in the weeks preceeding the race. 

    Incidentaly, if anybody wants to shoot me down in flames here I wont be in the least bit offended. 

  • Hey BenDavies 15, thanks very much for your have explained it all really well.

    Electrolyte tablets sound good-I have never actually heard of them before, but would let's say a bit of salt work just as well? or are there other electrolytes you need rather than solely salt?

    Blimey...having to eat 750g of pasta, no wonder you found that tough going!!! Useful note about the magnesium-never realised it helps the body to store glycogen more effectively. Could I just ask though why you feel it would be helpful to take a b complex pill? Can training reduce your b vitamins then?

    Which ultra marathons have you completed distance wise? the maramite sandwiches and chocolate! image

  • Kathy

    The only ultra that I have completed to date is the 35 mile Northants ultra so I am not nearly as hardcore as many people here (I am in the Nottingham ultra this weekend). 

    I drew up my nutrition plan with the help of a friend who is a hopefull for the paralympic cycling squad, and of course studied online ultra diet plans.  I enjoyed high levels of energy at all stages of the race and the only factor that realy limited my performence was the mechanical impact of the distance on my body. 

    The B complex pill is important because B vitamins have a verry specific role in releasing energy from the muscles.  There are eight versions of vitamin B which together are called the B complex.  Hence a B complex pill contains all eight.  B vitamins can also be obtained from liver, turkey, tuna, bananas, beans and lentils. 

    Electrolytes usualy form when salt is placed in water so salty foods such as pretzls are agood source of electrolytes.  The advantage of the electrolyte tablets is that they can be disolved in your hydration blader ensuring that you get a continuous suply of electrolytes whenever you take on water.  It simply means one less thing to worry about. 

  • Sorry to not address the question but if you want to experience the best Ultra in the world you need to head to the Comrades Marathon in South Africa (as mentioned by Martin above). It is a 56 mile point to point race run in late May or mid June each year, with the course alternating each year. There are a lot of very demanding hills and even though it is run in the Durban winter, the temperatures reach up to 26C (sometimes even warmer) on race day. There are usually around 12,000 people running but this year was bigger with about 17,000 people making the start line (if I remember correctly). The feeling you get when you stand at the starting line and they play Chariots of Fire will be one of the greatest experiences you will ever have as a runner. The feeling when you get to the finish is even better.

    Of course, I am slightly biased as the race goes through my hometown of Hillcrest...

  • That sounds prety awsome Warren.

    What are the qualification criteria?

  • Yep, it does sound awesome......yeah how do you go about qualifying for an entry??

  • You need to run a sub 5hr marathon to qualify for it. Entries for next years race open next week, on the 1st of September. Any IAAF certified race anywhere in the world will do. I think just about every marathon in the UK would meet the criteria.

    The 2011 race will be an Up run, from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and will be on the 29th of May 2011. Have a look at their website for some more info. There is also a forum there with some very valuable info.

  • How much did it cost you to get in?

    This does not apear to be listed on the website.

  • I can't remember exactly what it cost for 2010. It was quite steep for International runners at about USD180. It is unfortuantely quite an expensive race to do if you are coming from the UK, once you have paid for your flights and accomodation. It is well worth it if you can afford it though and it would be nice to turn it into a 2 week holiday and see some of South Africa.
  • There is a discussion thread on the event here -

    Lots of UK folk who did the race this year and are looking to return for 2011 are on this thread.

  • hmmm 

    Found a 42 mile ultra in January, (Country to capital) and thought this sounds nice and silly to do as a first standalone running race.....
    (had a busy summer doing a couple of marathons as a cool down to some biking etc.....image)

    I've probably started training too late, but I have a bit of a base to start / rebuild.....

  • I'm doing a 6 marathons in 6 days in june 2010 and wondered if anyone on here had done an 'Eddie Izzard' themselves?

     Would appreciate any advice regards training plans.


  • Some great tips on here guys Ben Davies 15 - the nutritional advice is a big help. I'm doing the Shakespear marathon in April (my 6th) and am planning on carrying on the training to do my first ultra marathon later this year.  I've never gone over 26.2 so am a bit nervous about what to expect! Can anyone reccomend any good events in the UK from July onwards? Are they quite busy or pretty lonley?

  • Hi Mike,

    I did the Brighton Marathon this year and have just entered the Round Ripon Ultra (35 miles).

    The advice on here is brilliant. I've been searching for races to keep me fit for next years Brighton Marathon and have stupidly entered the Ripon! I'd like to know some more about events around the summer time for next year so I will keep checking the forum.


Sign In or Register to comment.