The 3 Rs: rest, recover, run…
Ultra-marathon training tips for the long run
Going longer than the classic 26.2-mile marathon distance is becoming increasingly popular, and distance running coach Tom Craggs explains how do it.
Build the miles
Time on your feet is important, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about easy miles. Quality sessions are crucial.
Try this: Build in a weekly tempo run at a speed where three or four-word answers are about all you can manage. Within a 45 to 60-minute run, start with a simple 5x5 minutes at this effort with a 90-second jog recovery and then build to 6x5 minutes, 3x10 minutes, 20/10/5 minutes or even 30 minutes continuously as the weeks progress.
You need strength endurance – the ability to hold your effort and posture with many miles already in the legs.
Try this: One way to do this could be to complete your tempo effort runs up and down a stretch of hill. Getting used to running faster up and also downhill is great for building all-round strength.
Love your limbs
Your legs and feet take a battering in ultra races and training. Develop some good recovery protocols to keep your limbs alive and kicking.
Try this: A sports massage every two to three weeks helps keep on top of muscle fatigue, compression garments can be useful, and look after your key weapon – your feet – by using recovery footwear such as Oofos sandals (pictured).
If you’re running a long-distance ultra or racing in the mountains, the chances are you’ll be walking for stretches on race day. Don’t let your ego ruin a great race by not trying this in training – don’t be surprised on race day if an effective walker overtakes you as you try to run.
Try this: Practise power walking, especially on steep gradients. Lean forwards slightly to mimic the gradient of the hill, either driving your arms or placing hands on your quads on very steep gradients.
Tailor your training
Ultra training is all about specificity – that means getting your body prepared for race day, which includes getting used to the surface you’re going to race on.
Try this: Do the majority of your training miles off-road, and include stretches of running on your race terrain in the final 60-90 minutes of your key long runs, whether that’s steep technical hills, flat road or track surfaces.
Find a balance
Effective training is all about balancing stress with the right amount and quality of recovery to progress as we get fitter when we recover, not when we train.
Try this: Train to a plan that’s realistic and recognises your other life stresses, such as work and family. Be very careful with your long runs – too many ultrarunners leave themselves exhausted by trying to run too far or tackling back-to-back long runs when they aren’t ready.
Eat for victory
Training without eating properly will massively impact your recovery. On race day your fueling strategy will make or break your performance, and you must practise eating and drinking on the move in training.
Try this: Solid foods are a sensible option if you’re tackling a long-distance ultra, but they can take some getting used to when running... that’s what training is for!
Practise running in your race kit, pacing and fueling so when the gun goes on race day you feel confident and have a plan.
Try this: Enter a 10k, half marathon or marathon; but complete it in your ultra kit, fuelling as per your ultra and at your ultra race pace.