Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
Ultra X races involve covering an even longer distance than most ultras, but over a number of consecutive days. Most stages, except a short final day, are over the standard marathon distance (26.2 miles) and are therefore ultramarathons in themselves. Whilst each event varies in terrain and environment one thing will always be true. Competitors need to prepare and do it properly.
That being said with the right preparation and approach anyone can complete an Ultra X event. If you don’t believe it then you should check out our article on the Wadi Rum Ultra 2018 finishers.
The most successful competitors at Ultra X events are those who are able to still run four days into the race. As such, success in a multi-day race relies on much more than just physical ability (differentiating them from say, a marathon), it also demands organization, mental grit and strategy.
Because there is so much to consider when planning one of these events, there is a lot of conflicting information about the best way to approach a race which can confuse even the most experienced.
What works well for one person will not necessarily work well for someone else, and as such we would urge caution when following specific advice and work out your own principle-based approach that suits you. After all, preparing is half the fun!
Your specific physical preparation depends on how far out from the race your training begins, along with your fitness levels. But in all cases, there are some tips for training that should be followed by everyone, and the first thing you should do is to work out your goal, create a plan and make it realistic.
Once established you should look to stick to your plan (although do not be afraid of resting if the body needs it), consistency in training is always best. It can be tempting try to fit in an extra speed session when the body is feeling good, but have faith. It is always better to go into a race 20% over-rested than 1% over-trained.
There is no perfect training plan. Some competitors will get through our events by averaging under 30 miles per week during training, whereas others will do well over 60 per week. What is important is to recognise that depending on your goal you might as well be completing a very different event.
Training should revolve around the type of race you are planning. Those who simply want to finish are likely to be spending double the amount of time on their feet as the fast runners, you need to think about this in training! Different goal = different training plan.
If your aim is to simply to finish the event you are likely to be spending the majority of each day out on the course. This will impact the food that you eat (likely to be more fat-based which is easier for the body to digest when running slower), the shoes that you wear (50 hours on your feet during the week is a very different situation than 25 hours) and the training that you do (if you think you are going to be walking most of the race then this should feature in your training plan). In contrast, a faster runner who is looking to compete should really focus on becoming that fast marathon runner who can perform off-road whilst pacing a 50-mile distance well.
Before you think about your training plan, nutrition strategy and even the kit that you buy, you should take some time to work out which group you fit into.
Above left: Men’s winner Salameh al Aqra finished the week having spent 24.5 hours on course, finishing most days by early afternoon and having the rest of the time to concentrate on recovering for the next day.
Above right: Kiko spent an amazing 52 hours on her feet over the course of the week, making it back just before sunfall most days.
Both athletes had very different goals going into the week, and as such their approach in the months before was hugely different. That being said, both emerged from the desert victorious, having achieved what they set out to do.
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