Ultramarathon Training: Preparing for the Long Haul

Embarking on an ultramarathon journey is like embracing a life-changing adventure. As this endurance sport grows, a new wave of athletes — the ultrarunners — rise, eager to conquer ultra distances. 

An ultramarathon, defined as any race longer than the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles, can range from 50K to 100 miles or more. The mental and physical challenge that comes with ultrarunning fuels these athletes, pushing their limits and redefining their capabilities. 

But how does one prepare for such a long haul?

Starting With Shorter Distances

Many seasoned ultramarathon runners started their journey by running shorter distances. The foundations of endurance and mental fortitude are often built in these early races, such as half marathons and marathons. It's the stepping stone approach — master the marathon, and you're already halfway to a 50-miler.

Take the story of Dean Karnazes, for example. Known as one of the world's most famous ultrarunners, Karnazes started with shorter distances. 

He ran his first marathon before graduating to ultramarathon distances, proving that a gradual build-up in mileage can lead to greater endurance feats. These experiences provide essential learning opportunities for pacing, hydration, and understanding how your body responds to long-distance running.

Building Your Training Plan

Embracing the ultra distances begins with developing a structured ultramarathon training plan. A solid training schedule should include different types of runs, strength training, rest days, and nutrition strategies. Each of these elements contributes to your overall readiness for the ultra challenge.

Your training program should be tailored to your current fitness level, available training time, and the specific race demands you’re targeting. While it may be tempting to pile on mileage quickly, respecting the principle of gradual progression is crucial. This reduces the risk of overtraining and injury.

What Are the Key Elements of an Ultramarathon Training Plan?

The structure of an ultramarathon training plan might seem overwhelming at first, but understanding the key elements can help you better prepare and succeed. 

These core components will ensure that you're training smartly and efficiently.

Easy Runs and Recovery Runs

Easy runs are the bedrock of ultramarathon training. They help develop your aerobic capacity, enhance fat metabolism, and reinforce proper running form. But just as important as these easy runs are recovery runs. 

Slower than your easy run pace, recovery runs are integral in aiding your body’s adaptation to training stress and healing microscopic muscle damage. They're also an excellent opportunity to try out your Form Stash Hi-Rise Compression Tights, designed to provide full coverage and a sculpted silhouette for optimal comfort during lighter sessions.

Long Runs and Back-to-Back Runs

When it comes to training for an ultra, long runs are indispensable. They help your body adapt to longer distances and allow you to test your race-day hydration and nutrition strategies. For instance, experimenting with energy gels or sports drinks during these runs can help you determine what works best for your stomach.

Back-to-back runs — two long runs on consecutive days — are another unique aspect of ultramarathon training. They simulate the fatigue of ultra distances without the need to cover the full distance in one go. This strategy improves your body's endurance and conditions your mind to handle the rigors of an ultramarathon.

Speedwork and Tempo Runs

Speedwork and tempo runs might not seem essential for an ultra, given the race's slower pace. However, incorporating these workouts into your training can boost your running economy and overall speed. 

For your tempo runs, why not slip on the Light Speed Compression Tights? With their Muscle Containment Stamping (MCS) technology, you can enhance your performance by reducing muscle movement and fatigue.

Training Tips and Techniques for Your First Ultra

With a well-structured training plan in place, it's time to delve into some specifics. Below are some tried and tested training tips to guide you on your ultramarathon journey.

Understand the Terrain

Ultramarathons often occur on various terrains — from mountainous trails to flat roads. Familiarize yourself with the course and incorporate similar terrain in your training runs. For example, regular hill work should feature in your plan if you're training for a hilly ultra.

Master the Art of Walking

Unlike marathons, walking is a crucial strategy in ultramarathons. Walking up steep hills or during the later stages of the race can help conserve energy. Practice power-walking during your long runs to get comfortable with the switch between running and walking.

Train at Night

If you're participating in an ultra requiring running through the night, incorporate some night runs into your training. This will help you adjust to the different visual cues and allow you to test your headlamp and nighttime gear.

Focus on Nutrition

Nutrition is critical in ultra running, where you'll burn thousands of calories. Your body can only store a limited amount of glycogen; hence, eating and drinking are vital throughout the race. During training, experiment with different types of food, energy gels, and drinks to see what suits you best.

Run on Tired Legs

The essence of back-to-back training is to simulate the fatigue you'll experience during the race. After your first long run, resist the urge to put your feet up. Instead, go for a hike or do some light cross-training. The aim is to get used to moving when tired.

Strength Train

Ultrarunning requires a strong core and lower body. Strength training exercises, like squats, lunges, planks, and yoga, can improve your stability, balance, and overall strength. Including at least two weekly strength-training sessions can make a significant difference.

Don't Overdo Mileage

While you need to log a lot of miles, more is not always better. It's important to balance high-mileage weeks with lower-mileage weeks to give your body time to recover. Ensure you listen to your body and take extra rest days if needed.

Practice Self-Care

Massage, stretching, and adequate sleep aid recovery and injury prevention. Compression gear can help promote better blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and speed up recovery.

Make Friends With Discomfort

Running an ultra is hard, and there will be times when you feel uncomfortable. Use your training runs to practice mental strategies to cope with these tough moments. 

It could be as simple as repeating a positive mantra, breaking the distance down into manageable segments, or visualizing crossing the finish line.

Do a Dress Rehearsal

About two weeks before the race, do a long run using all the gear, food, and drink you plan to use on race day. This not only helps you make sure everything works well but also boosts your confidence.

Develop a Race Strategy

Having a race strategy can help keep you focused and reduce anxiety on race day. Plan your pace, know where the aid stations are, and identify which sections of the course will be the most challenging. 

During training, practice sticking to your planned pace even when you feel strong to avoid burning out early in the race. Also, anticipate that things might not always go as planned, and be prepared to adapt your strategy if needed. Remember, flexibility is key in ultrarunning.

Getting Ready for Race Day

After months of preparation, race day is finally within sight. Here are some key factors to consider as you transition from training to racing.

  • Pacing is crucial in ultramarathons. Start too fast, and you risk depleting your energy reserves long before the finish line. Use your training runs to understand your ideal race pace, and aim to maintain that speed on race day.
  • Hydration and nutrition are vital to get right. Experiment with sports drinks and energy gels during your training runs to find what suits you best. Make sure to take advantage of the aid stations during the race.
  • Your gear should be tried and tested. Avoid any new items on race day. For instance, you could opt for the Light Speed Compression Tights, proven to support performance, or the Core Trisuit, ensuring nothing will hold you back on race day.
  • Trail races, off-road races, and hilly courses all present unique challenges. If your race includes challenging terrain, make sure you've done the necessary training to prepare.

The moment you cross the start line of your first ultramarathon is the beginning of a unique adventure. With the right preparation, training, and gear, you're ready for the journey that lies ahead.

Strength Training and Cross Training for Ultrarunners

The importance of strength training and cross-training in an ultramarathon training plan cannot be overstated. Ultrarunning involves more than just logging miles. It requires a well-rounded fitness approach, and incorporating strength and cross-training helps build a stronger, more resilient body.

Strength Training

Strength training helps improve your running economy by building stronger muscles to generate more power. This becomes crucial as you tackle uphill stretches and navigate challenging trails. Exercises like squats, lunges, and core work should be staples in your strength training regimen.

Cross Training

Cross-training allows you to build endurance and aerobic fitness without the repetitive impact of running. Activities like cycling, swimming, or using the elliptical trainer offer a refreshing change of pace while still improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Pro Tip: Our Force Compression Tights are designed to support you through high-intensity training sessions. With Muscle Containment Stamping (MCS) technology, they help reduce muscle movement and soothe discomfort and fatigue, allowing you to make the most out of your strength and cross-training workouts.

Nutrition for Ultrarunners

Proper nutrition is paramount in ultramarathon training. Ultrarunners need an adequate supply of carbohydrates to fuel their long-distance runs and intense workouts. 

Ensure you incorporate a good balance of carbs, proteins, and healthy fats in your diet. Having a sports drink or energy gels at your disposal on race day can keep your energy levels stable.

Hydration is equally important. Dehydration can severely impact performance and health. It's vital to hydrate before, during, and after your workouts. Remember, it's not just about drinking when you're thirsty but maintaining a consistent hydration strategy throughout.

Recovery: The Forgotten Aspect of Training

Recovery is often overlooked in ultramarathon training but is integral to improving performance and preventing injuries. As you increase your training volume, providing your body with adequate rest becomes crucial.

Active Recovery

Active recovery, including light jogging or stretching, can help flush out lactic acid from your muscles and promote blood flow. Wearing the Refresh Recovery Compression Tights after intense training or competition aids recovery by supporting blood flow and stabilizing muscles.

Rest Days

Incorporate rest days in your training schedule to allow your body to recuperate. Listen to your body. 

If you're feeling overly fatigued or notice signs of a possible injury, rest for a day or two. It's better to arrive at the start line slightly undertrained than overtrained and injured.

Conclusion: The Ultramarathon Journey Awaits

Training for an ultramarathon can seem like an uphill battle. The thought of running ultra distances is daunting, but you can successfully prepare for the long haul with the right training plan, nutrition strategy, and recovery regimen.

Whether it's at the start line, during the arduous journey, or crossing the finish line, you're never alone in this journey — with 2XU’s range of performance-supporting gear, like our Propel Pro Wetsuit for your cross-training swims, or the Core Trisuit for race day, we're with you every step of the way. Your mission is our mission. It's time to reset, refocus, and embrace the change.

Remember, ultramarathons aren't just about reaching the finish line; they're about the journey, the self-discovery, and the transformation. As you lace up and take that first step, remember: this is not just about running an ultramarathon. 

This is about realizing that you're capable of more than you ever imagined. You're not just running; you're becoming "Two Times You."

Happy ultrarunning!


How Long Is An Ultra Marathon? The Ultramarathon Distance Explained | Proud To Run

To the Limit: Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes | NPR

To Run Faster: Strength Training Is Key | CARA

Cross Training - OrthoInfo | AAOS

Dehydration and its effects on performance | Human Kinetics