Run more than 26.2 miles? Are you insane?
Many ultra-marathoners will say “not at all!”
An ultra-marathon is not a set distance race but is any event over 26.2 miles. While these grueling races aren’t for the faint of heart, they are becoming increasingly more popular among running enthusiasts across the globe. Races of 30, 50 or even 100 miles may be within your reach, but only if you have enough time to train and follow a sensible training approach.
There are no “one-size-fits-all” training plans for ultra-marathoners. That’s because there are so many variables involved in training for a race, including your current conditioning level, the type of race you are entering (distance, terrain, climate, etc.) and what you hope to achieve. But whatever your personal training plan, here are some things to keep in mind if you are considering making the transition from marathoner to ultra-marathoner sometime in the near future.
The mental challenges are as difficult as the physical ones. One of the biggest obstacles you’ll face in reaching the finish line in an ultra-marathon is your own doubt and fear. That’s why, right from the very start, you have to believe in yourself and your ability to meet this challenge, however daunting it may be.
Focus on consistency rather than speed. When you’re transitioning from marathon training to ultra-marathon training, your biggest focus will be on increasing the amount of distance you’ll be running and how much time you’ll spend on your feet. That means you’ll have to slow down to a speed that is maintainable over a longer duration of time. The more you practice running at an easy, consistent effort, the more successful you’ll be when race day rolls around.
Train for a particular event. Ultra-marathons can vary considerably from one to the next. One race may be a 30-miler on flat terrain while another can be 100 miles or longer through alpine trails of varying altitude. You’ll need to fully understand the characteristics of any race you plan to enter so you can specifically train for the variables you’ll encounter.
Get comfortable with the course. Many ultramarathons are run on trails rather than roads, while others are run on beaches, city streets or tracks. So knowing the terrain – and training to run on it – is an important part of your preparation. Check out elevation changes to determine how you’ll need to train for hills and find out how technical the course is so you can be better prepared whether you’ll be traversing rocky trails or unforgiving roads.
Prepare for the elements. Temperature and weather conditions will affect you more when you’re running hours on end than when you run a marathon first thing in the morning and likely finish before there’s much change in the conditions. During an ultra-marathon race, you may be running 5, 10 or even 20 hours so you’ll need to be prepared for varying conditions.
Learn what your body needs. Nutrition and hydration are critical factors in your success during an ultra-marathon due to the extent of time you’ll be running and the amount of effort you’ll expend. You’ll need more than just energy drinks and gels to get you to the finish line, but what, when and how much you eat will be dependent on what your body needs and can tolerate while on the course. Aim to consume approximately 200-400 calories per hour during the race, beginning right from the starting line.