Somewhere deep down, after my kids have flown the coop and I think I have time for it, I want to train for my first ultra. At this point I can’t imagine it–I think to myself, the marathon is hard enough, why on earth consider a 50K or 50 miler? Absolute insanity. But, my favorite saying is: If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.
I downloaded Training for Your First Ultra on the Another Mother Runner podcast to listen to on a long run, not long after Erica and I started talking about one day running the Grand Circle Trailfest in Utah. The Trailfest is 3-day running adventure in which you cover 11-13 miles each day though our country’s most gorgeous trails. I am guessing this festival of running could be a useful guide in determining if I really would want to train for an ultra.
The podcast reviews ultra training plans put together by elite ultra runner and Train Like A Mother Club Coach Stephanie Howe Violett. There are a variety of training programs available, including a 50K and 50 miler. Their top tips and thoughts for beginners to chew on:
- Their plan starts quite easy, and perhaps less mileage than you may have been running. Typically they recommend having some consistent running (3-4 days a week) and longer races (a marathon or two) under your experience belt. Their training plan is 24 weeks long, 5 days of training, and includes strength training and one day of cross training. For their 50 miler, you may have back to back long run days to get your body ready for what the race will require, which is running on tired legs, having mental toughness, and practicing nutrition. You will have some weeks that are higher mileage weeks. The longest run for the 50k will be 24-28 miles, or 4-5 hours, possibly followed by 1-2 hours on Sunday. During the week, most of the runs are 60-70 min or 40 min for a recovery run.
- The focus is on running the distance, not working on speed. It’s the time on your feet that really matters, forget about pace, which is a little different when coming from road racing. Leave the GPS at home, and let the pacing go.
- It’s ok not to have much trail running experience, but ideally switch your training to *mostly* trail, especially on the weekends for a long run. Stephanie even recommends running a short trail race, to get in the experience. Interestingly, a marathon as a training run while training for an ultra isn’t recommended, because a road race is so different. She recommends the need to go slower, which can be tough to do during the excitement of a marathon race.
- Starting and finishing an ultra race is somewhat anti-climatic. The start is relaxed…there is not always a big rush like in a road race. Ultra running and racing has a more “chill vibe” and less structure. When you finish it may be coming in alone with very few spectators. The race itself consists of miles of time on your own, or even chatting with another racer.
- If you run on a mountainous trail race, you may even be doing some walking. You have to conserve energy, so you may be walking or hiking up a hill, and then running down. This mindset is quite different from road racing, where you are likely running the entire race.
- Choose a race that you can be excited about. If you are able to train on similar terrain to what your race is, that is ideal. Some races will have hundreds of spectators at the end, and others will end with only a few people sitting around a campfire. Sometimes choosing an ultra to travel to can be far more exciting than choosing one in your own area. On the plus side, the expense might be less and you are sleeping in your own bed. On the other hand, can you get excited about running miles in such a familiar place? Will you stay mentally stimulated?
- Fueling is extremely important. Use simple carbohydrates. Practice this fueling in training. She recommends 200-250 calories per hour during long runs. If you are fueling correctly, you will not feel like you need a nap everyday.
- Recovery is also important. Sleep is important, even if that means sometimes you need to skip a training run! Having connections to a physical therapist, massage therapist, etc during training is important.
- Don’t have any races on your calendar after an ultra. It takes up to 6 weeks to fully recover. Do a few 50Ks before you move up to a 50 miler.
- Coach Stephanie is available to help you if you need to modify your schedule a little for other activities if they come up (like vacations or a sprint triathlon). However, the ultra may need to be a priority, because combining trainings isn’t ideal. There are several resources and online or phone support available with the training plan.
I’ll definitely be adding this podcast and training plan option as a possible resource to my list down the road when the ultra bug finally bites! If you have run an ultra, we would love to hear from you! Let us know your lessons learned or any advice.