Cre­at­ing a Train­ing Plan for an ultra

As any­one who has ever taken part in an ultra knows all too well one of the most com­mon ques­tions you will get asked (or ask your­self) is “Where do you even start?!”

The notion of run­ning or walk­ing 250km may seem incon­ceiv­able. For many a mara­thon seems enough, but five in five days?

Get­ting to the fin­ish line of an Ultra X is an achiev­able goal for any­one regard­less of run­ning back­ground. The secret is to not be intim­id­ated. If you are mara­thon fit, you can, in 16 weeks, add an Ultra X to your CV, and even if you are not yet at that stage, by tak­ing train­ing one step at a time com­plet­ing an ultra is obtain­able.

More than half of Ultra X Jordan fin­ish­ers in 2018 had nev­er run a single mara­thon before sign­ing up. In train­ing, a 10 mile run can quickly turn into a mara­thon and then back to back mara­thons before you know it. What an ultramara­thon will teach you is that the human body is cap­able of so much more that it is usu­ally exposed to.

Train­ing for some­thing like an Ultra X need not dif­fer hugely from pre­par­ing for a tra­di­tion­al mara­thon. By fol­low­ing a mara­thon plan which works for you and then sub­sti­tut­ing a high tempo ses­sion for a lower intens­ity ‘time on the feet workout’, it is pos­sible to pro­gress to ultra dis­tance rel­at­ively eas­ily. How­ever, it is import­ant to make one thing clear; there is no one-size-fits-all train­ing plan for an ultra. You must workout what works for you.

People often ask about how many times a week they need to run, how far and for how long, but without know­ing that person’s goals, run­ning his­tory, life­style, and the time they com­mit, it is impossible to answer these ques­tions. Just take a look at the range of train­ing from our Ultra X Jordan fin­ish­ers in 2018 you can see this. Rather than fol­low­ing strict guidelines we endorse a 3 step prin­ciple-based meth­od to suc­ceed­ing (see below).



Step 1 — Focus on the out­put

This is to work out your goal and tail­or a train­ing pro­gram around this (see here for advice on this).

The fast­est run­ners will fin­ish an Ultra X in around 26 hours, where­as those with the sole goal of fin­ish­ing can take double this. This is import­ant because if you are going to be walk­ing most of the race then walk­ing should fea­ture in your train­ing. If, on the oth­er hand, you want to com­pete, you really need to focus on becom­ing a fast mara­thon run­ner who can do well off road. If you are some­where in between, like the vast major­ity, it is a slid­ing scale and the focus of your train­ing should reflect this. It’s also import­ant to assess the gap between your cur­rent level of phys­ic­al fit­ness and men­tal pre­pared­ness and that required in order for you to suc­cess­fully com­plete the race.

Step 2 — Build a sched­ule which works

Build a sched­ule around real life work­ing back­wards from the race date. There are so many dif­fer­ent ways to pre­pare for a multi-stage race and it is easy to get dis­trac­ted by some­body else’s workout. Don’t let it over­whelm you. Have con­fid­ence in your own strategy.

Koop’s Hier­archy of “Ultramara­thon Train­ing needs” is a great start­ing point. The argu­ment here being that to start with, ath­letes should focus on three things; train­ing time, rest and diet. Once these tar­gets have been met then they can move onto more com­plex aspects such as high intens­ity train­ing, train­ing the gut and acclimat­ing to a race envir­on­ment. How­ever, get­ting these key bits right has a much great­er impact on per­form­ance than the items high­er up the pyr­am­id and by focus­ing on these three the major­ity of people will be able to get through.

Step 3 — Keep track

Log­ging your train­ing means fig­ur­ing out how you know if you’re get­ting what you want at each step. For the long dis­tance run­ner it is import­ant to train pro­gress­ively and mileage should increase by around 10% each week, but by simply hav­ing just one goal — 250 km in 5 days, which may be 6 months away, it is dif­fi­cult to know where you are at any one point.

By break­ing your main goal (Ultra X Jordan for example) down into inter­im tar­gets and peri­od­iz­ing train­ing into blocks, focus­ing will be easi­er as the next tar­get will always be around the corner. For example, if you have not run a mara­thon before regis­ter­ing, some example goals might be:

  • Mara­thon dis­tance (April)
  • 50km (June)
  • Ultra dis­tance over 2–3 days (July)
  • One longer non-stop ultra dis­tance of more than 50 miles (August)
  • Ultra X Jordan (Octo­ber)

If you already have one or more mara­thons under your belt you might jump straight into a short­er ultra and build from there. By set­ting goals, run­ners can stay motiv­ated, on track and be sure that they get to the start line ready to fly!


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