Training for Ultra-marathon

Marathons to some are the ultimate goal. With marathon, we mean 26 miles and 385 yards or 42 kilometers and 195 meters. No more, no less. If it’s more than that, then, it becomes an ultra-marathon. The most popular distances so far is the 50K and 102K. There are also timed events like the 24-hour run.

But why do the ultra? For one, and to some strong athletes I know, the marathon is just not enough of a challenge to them. To others, it’s the challenge to discover personal limits. Whatever reason you may have, one thing is for sure – running an ultra-marathon will test your own passion and commitment to running and you will learn along the road your own personal, both mental and physical limitation.

Exactly at the same time last year when I started gearing up for my longest ultra. I made sure I have the luxury of time to finish every long run on weekends. That also means I join marathons. I finished all the time. Regardless of time. It’s all about mind-setting. It’s all about teaching the body to adapt to the gruelling finish after being roasted in the sun. It all came suddenly that finishing a marathon is really easy. And entering an ultra-marathon, then, is not as certain. So while I build-up a strong base of mileage for it, I also took time to get advice from the experts (the veterans – I would call them). While it’s a thrill to enter the unknown, I find being uncertain uncomfortable. So I ask a lot. Talked to a lot of veteran runners. I joined their long runs if I have to just to be able to talk to them – even if it means I’d bonk at the distance they will be running. But I did learned a lot. Experience indeed is the best teacher. None else.

For the benefit of my incoming ultra-marathoner friends, this is how your training program should look like.

Base Building Phase

12 to 16 weeks prior to the target Ultra. Increase your running time and distance gradually. This is supposed to be the longest of your training. Time spent on your feet. It s suggested that you run the same weekly mileage for at least 2 weeks before the gradual increase. Advanced runners should do long runs weekly. With advance runners we mean those who have done multiple marathons. Others should do long runs every 2 or 3 weeks. It’s not advisable to race during this phase. But if you would, do not exceed 85% of your max HR. Work in 4-week cycles. Week 1 the base. In Week 2 increase by 10% the weekly mileage. In Week 3 maintain the same weekly mileage but increase the distance of the long run. Week 4 is the same as the base. Advanced runners do back-to-back weekend long runs at this phase. It’s a tough job for me – so I just won’t, while I have.

What do you get in this phase?
– You get to build your cardiovascular and muscular endurance
– Increased aerobic fitness
– Improved VO2 max

You need to be able to adapt to spending long hours of time on your feet and moving forward. Learning to walk and run again is one of the key to a successful ultra-marathon.

Strength Building Phase

This is the phase where you build muscle. Where you raise your lactate threshold. It starts at the 2nd Week of your Base Building Phase, and may extend up to the 12th week. What do you do? You run hills. Long runs on hills. More time spent running hills. For optimal gains, run near max heart rate in 2 to 6 minutes uphill, per repeats. It’s not a s important to run fast up the hill as it is to run with good form and a powerful stride. Emphasize lift off the ground.

What do you get in this phase?

– Muscular strength
– Increase capillary beds
– Imprived lactate enzyme response
– Raised lactate threshold
– Maintained aerobic fitness
– Maintained and increased VO2 max
– Maintained cardiovascular and muscular endurance

The more hills you do, the stronger you’l be and the better prepared you are for your ultra.

Speed Building Phase

This phase is skipped most of the time. This is the phase for racers. That’s not me. However, if I would choose to do some speedwork, I just maintain the long runs, slightly reduce the weekly mileage, and join short distance races – preferrably the 10K, 16K or 21K – to run or do some time trials. But racing has to be at 85% to 90% of max HR. No more. Or it will hurt you by limiting your ability to train. You need to be able to recover in time for the next run. If you will race and you are able to recover in time for the next run, then go.

Mid distance runs in between days you don’t do long runs can be an excellent workout if ran as tempo run. Take heed to recovery. Know when to slow down when you must. We have a lifetime of running. We avoid injuries of any kind.

Like what a friend would always note: “When in doubt – jog.”

14 thoughts on “Training for Ultra-marathon

    1. I knew this would be asked. It should be 3 to 6 weeks before the event. But on a weekly micro phase, this can be incorporated every 2 to 3 weeks. Along with the Strength Building Phase.

  1. Nice post, and some good information there.

    It’s a good base training program, which can be adjusted for each individual. The Ultra-Marathon, unlike the regular marathon is very difficult to make general rules for, mainly because there has been so little research into human performance beyond the popular Marathon distance.

    The key to ultra training is in being flexible, and prepared to experiement (but not on race day).

    I think the most important messages fro myour post are the importance of spending long periods of time on your feet, and always moving forward. It is amazing how much distance you can cover even just walking, and often you can recover while walking, which is great.

    Keep up the interesting posts and happy running!

  2. Nice post and you cover a good general training schedule for an ultramarathon.

    The challenge with an ultra training program is that we are all so very different in the way our body responds after 5+hours of running. Also there has been very little research done for activities at this level, but I am sure this will change as the popularity of Ultramarathons increases.

    The key to an ultra training program is flexibility, and learning to listen to and understand your own body. Your training is a time for experimenting, so that you have a well practiced routine in your races. Even then you must be prepared for the unexpected, it is unusual for an ultra race to go exactly as you plan.

    Keep up the interesting posts, looking forward to more.
    Happy running,

  3. Thanks coach sa advise! I tried ultra once to test my limits above the 42K limit. Ayun, naadik tuloy at hinahanap-hanap ang sakit sa katawan.

    True, dapat sa ultra tanggalin ang utak. Takbo na lang! Nyahahahaha

  4. Nice… But I have to adapt to the time available to me for training. On days that I can’t run, I do cross training on the stat. bike and core exercises everyday.

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