Ultramarathon Training 101: How to Become A Successful Ultra Distance Runner

Most of us have heard of a half marathon and a marathon, but the ultramarathon is less known by the average person. So what is an ultramarathon? It’s defined as a race that is anything longer than a standard marathon, which is 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers. 

So, while an ultra could theoretically be 42.3 kilometers, the general consensus is that the true distance starts at 30 miles or 48 kilometers. The longer single-stage ultras are between 100 km and 235 miles. Multi-stage ultras can last anywhere from several days to several weeks. The longest ultra in the world is the Self-Transcendence Race which is 3,100 miles and has a 52-day cutoff.

Training for any race is a big undertaking, but this is more true when looking at ultramarathons. There are no shortcuts with ultramarathon training, either physically or mentally. You need to put the work in because you are running what can only be described as a gauntlet. Ultramarathons can be very transformative and rewarding, which is why those who do ultras choose these extreme distances.

Ultras are often run in remote areas, and when you’re in isolated areas for several hours, you can’t just wing it as there’s no room for error – a luxury in shorter distances. If you want to run ultramarathons, preparation is more important than ever.

This preparation includes:

  • Running
  • Cross training
  • Gear
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Mental training
  • Pacing
  • Worst-case-scenario planning

Below, we’ll dive into all these areas and help you create the perfect plan to get you to the finish line with a smile on your face. Well… a smile inside, at least!

Marathons vs. Ultra Marathons

Ultramarathon training guide

If you’re reading this, you are likely looking to jump from marathons to ultras. But, in the same way that a marathon doesn’t feel like two half marathons, an ultra certainly doesn’t feel like two marathons. Let’s look at the 10 biggest differences between these challenges.

1. There’s No Leeway in Ultras

In distances 26.2 miles and shorter, you have some leeway if you haven’t done the right amount of preparation. If your stomach plays up, you hit a wall, or you get injured, you can push through to the end in these “shorter” distances. While your finish time may not be great, you’ll probably be able to cross the finish line.

With ultramarathons, there’s no leeway, no winging it, no running on hopes.

You have to prepare properly, or you won’t finish. It’s that simple.

Ultra training will boost your endurance rather than prioritize your speed while conditioning your mind and body for the goliath task. Under preparation is not an option.

2. Ultras Have More Community

Running (in general) brings people together, no matter what distance or how often you run. But many believe the ultra community is much friendlier and tighter-knit than others. Ultramarathon runners spend more time together, share a unique experience, and there are fewer entrants than in half and full marathons.

When you’re going through a tough time on the trails, you’ll easily be able to run along with someone else, spending hours getting to know one another. 

3. Ultras Are Equally Physical and Mental

Running long distances is uncomfortable no matter who you are or how much training you’ve done. That’s why it’s important to train your mind as much as your body. Ultramarathon runners slowly develop their pain threshold to tolerate discomfort for longer.

Additionally, ultra runners must contend with mental fatigue, boredom, and low points. Running indefinitely when your mood is low can be harder than running in pain, so training holistically is critical.

4. Marathons = Speed, Ultramarathons = Endurance

Many runners have a time goal for their marathons: sub-4 hour, sub-3 hour, etc. But when you run an ultra, you’ll spend a lot of time walking, eating, and stretching. The main goal with an ultra is to keep moving, whereas the primary goal with marathons is to keep moving fast.

We aren’t saying you shouldn’t aim to run a fast marathon, but it really doesn’t mean much if you bonk after 30 miles with another 70 to go. And yes, we know running a marathon requires endurance, but you’re combining this with speed to achieve your desired finish time.

For ultramarathons, you’ll run most of it at a slower pace and lower intensity to sustain your energy levels for longer.

5. Ultramarathons Are More Visually Stimulating

Most marathons are run within towns and cities and typically pick the easier, flattest routes. Ultramarathons normally take place in strange, remote locations on trails. Running on tarmacs is much faster than trails. 

The uneven nature of trails requires you to pay attention to each footfall which takes more energy. Pair that with trees, rocks, rivers, gradients, and various other obstacles, and ultramarathons are much more visually stimulating.

6. You Need to Be More Self-Sufficient for Ultras

We’ve already mentioned how ultras take considerably longer than marathons, and a certain level of self-sufficiency is required. Ultra runners wear running packs, vests, or belts that carry water, electrolytes, food, and other supplies, like a torch, painkillers, and Kinesio tape.

With all the pre-race preparation you do, you’ll know exactly how many gels you need, how much water and fluids to carry, and what supplies you should take. Unlike marathons with regular aid stations every few miles, ultras have much more distance between stations, so you need to be ready for anything.

7. Ultras Have Pacers and Crews

From the 50-mile distance, ultra races allow runners to have crews, which are the support team. Your team carries extra clothes, food, fluids, and medical items. They also offer you moral support along the way.

If the ultra race permits pacers, you can run with a companion who will keep you on track in the latter parts of the race. This person can also carry extra nutrition for you, and during the night stages, they provide extra light. We’ll talk more about pacers and crews later.

8. Nutritional Needs

When you run a marathon, you can get away with a few gels along the way. But an ultramarathon requires a much higher calorie intake. You can have liquid calories for the first few hours with electrolytes, sports drinks, and gels. But once you’ve been running for several hours, you’ll probably want something more solid and savory.

Luckily, aid stations offer plenty of snacks and foods high in carbs, protein, and fat – both salty and sweet. You may not feel like eating as you’re running, but you need to ensure you’re taking in enough calories to keep you fuelled for the duration of the run.

9. You Can Utilize Drop Bags at Ultras

Runners who want something specific at various points in the race (that isn’t offered at aid stations) can use drop bags. You can include items like clothes, snacks, electrolyte tablets, a headlamp, or anything else you think you may need.

You place the items in the bag and label it with your name, bib number, and which checkpoint the bag should go to. Drop bags are especially common for runners who don’t have crew members to support them along the way.

10. Running at Night

100-kilometer ultras take most newbies around 12 hours to complete, and longer distances (obviously) even more than this. So, you will likely run at least some part of the race in darkness.

When you do your training runs, plan a few to be at night once the sun’s set. Another consideration is that sleep deprivation will kick in once the sun sets, especially if you run past midnight.

The Ultra Marathon Bible by Samuel Nash
The Ultra Marathon Bible by Samuel Nash is a useful read for first-timers

Tips for Ultramarathon Training

Let’s start with the most important point – you cannot, we repeat, CANNOT adapt your marathon training plan to fit your ultramarathon distance. Can you imagine running 70 miles as a training run for your 100-mile ultra? NO WAY!

You need to adapt to the rules of the ultra game, tackling this challenge for what it is: a beast. Here are tips to keep in mind when starting your ultramarathon training.

1. Focus on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

With heart rate monitors, watches, and smartphones, there are so many ways you can track and monitor the various metrics from your training. But being too metric-focused isn’t ideal when training for an ultra.

Unlike training for a marathon, where you’ll do most, if not all, of your training on the road, the only way to train for trails is to run on trails. And because no two trails are the same, the metrics generated by modern tools may not always be accurate to your speed and effort levels.

Other factors like stress, nutrition, hydration, sleep quality, etc., also affect how your runs are tracked. And, while metrics have their value, we recommend focussing on your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) as your main “metric.”

RPE is measured on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how you feel at a particular moment on a run. RPE is subjective and personal to each runner based on the abovementioned factors. One day, you may run a 25-minute 5k which feels like a 5 RPE, and another day, that same run on the same route may feel like an 8 RPE.

Heart rates vary based on fitness level, health conditions, age, sleep, etc., but the table below shows RPE zones based on effort:

RPEHR %Talk LevelMaintain Pace DurationIdeal Race
Very Easy1 – 2< 60NormalIndefiniteN/A – warm-up
Easy3 – 460 – 703 – 6 word sentences2 – 5+ hoursUltramarathon, marathon
Hard5 – 670 – 802 – 3 word bursts30 minutes – 2 hours10k – half marathon
Very Hard7 – 880 – 901 – 2 words between gasps8 – 30 minutes5k or less
Maximum9 – 1090 – 100Hard to say 1 word5 minutes or less1 mile

As you gain fitness, the effort you can put in increases without impacting your heart rate. Every runner’s threshold is slightly different, so your perception of where each level is will differ from other runners.

When training for (and running) ultras, you must learn to get comfortable running at lower RPEs for most of the race. This slow-burn method allows you to run for hours and days to tackle the ultra-beast.

2. Reframe Your Brain

If you can think it, you can do it, and nothing could be more true regarding ultra running. Your mind plays a huge part in your success in covering massive distances. When you look at what an ultramarathon is at its core, it’s humans running long distances, eating copious amounts of food, and talking themselves into keeping going.

The third thing is one of the most important points because when you’re running what seems like endless miles in often less-than-ideal conditions while in pain, your belief that you can do it will get you through.

With ultrarunning, you can’t think about the end of the race, or even the middle, when the middle is often further than a marathon. When you cross that start line, it’s best to be present in the moment and embrace the challenge, taking it one mile at a time. 

Reframe your brain to focus less on speed, time, or distance and break it down to the here and now. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and an ultra is the definition of an elephant.

3. Build Your Endurance

An ultra runner is basically just someone who can run for many hours, sometimes even several days, without stopping. They are what we like to call Endurance Warriors. When you realize that the goal of ultramarathons is to become an endurance warrior, your mindset about pacing and training will change.

There are a few traits that are common among all Endurance Warriors. They:

  • Know how to manage their water, electrolytes, and food
  • Vary their distances and speeds, but always maintain sustainable efforts
  • Are conservative and humble
  • Aren’t worried about taking more time to finish a race safely
  • Always keep a bit of energy for the end of the race

No matter where you go, you’ll find these traits in all Endurance Warriors, both male and female. It is one of the key reasons why ultra marathon runners suffer far fewer injuries than you might expect for the amount of distance they cover.

4. Incorporate Strength and Cross Training

Yes, yes, yes, we know running an ultra is about running. But if only it were as simple as running to train for running. What a romantic notion. No, the reality is that your body is made up of several mechanisms that all work together to make you a strong runner – strong enough to carry your body 50+ kilometers.

You see, running is a repetitive motion where your legs and feet repeat the same movement around 170 times per minute. All the muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons used in this motion must be trained to be as strong and flexible as possible.

When you only run when training, you solely focus on the few muscles running uses while neglecting the supporting structures. That’s why you need to do cross and strength training. These exercises build on your weaknesses to support your body as a whole.

Strength and cross-training activate and strengthen your muscles to support the muscles used for running. Focus on your core, legs, hips, and glutes, as these help make you a stronger, more efficient runner while reducing your risk of injuries and strains.

5. Hit the Trails

The cold hard truth is that most ultras happen on trails. There are exceptions, like the extreme Tunnel Ultra, but these are few and far between. You can get away with only training on asphalt and the treadmill when you train for shorter distances. But when training for an ultra, you need to get your feet on the trails to acclimate to the new setting.

The first thing you’ll notice is that you are slower on trails as each step has to be thought out and takes more energy. Trails will normally also include plenty of up and downhills, and the only way to train for hills is to train on hills. Many ultra runners prefer walking up hills to conserve energy – this is perfectly fine!

6. Find the Right Fuel, Hydration, and Gear

As we mentioned, you can likely get away with a few gels, water, and a good pair of running shoes when running a half or full marathon. Make no mistake – many runners fine-tune their nutrition and gear for shorter distances to ensure their success, but these are the basics.

With ultras, you won’t have as much luck. You’ll run in the elements for many hours and use your gear for the duration. The last thing you want is shoes that give you blisters, pants that chafe you, and a shirt that makes you overheat. Find the gear that works best for your body during training.

This goes for your food and fluids too. The standard fare ultra runners default to includes gels, nuts, dried fruit, bananas, beef jerky, and potatoes in all their forms. But this may not work for you and your body when it’s tired and under strain.

When running longer distances (half marathons and longer), you’ll take on a gel every 45 to 60 minutes. But most people finish a marathon in less than 5 hours, so you’ll only need around 3 or 4 gels, which your body will likely tolerate without many side effects. 

But during an ultra, once you get past the usual four or so gels, you may find they give you an upset stomach, cramps, or nausea. That’s when you need to ensure you’ve got other foods up your sleeve. Not eating is not an option. During your long training runs, try out different fuel options – anything you think you may like while doing it tough at 75 miles.

You’ll also need to find what liquids work for you and how much you need. Most runners opt for electrolytes and sports drinks, with plain water here and there, but this is personal to you and your needs.

7. Follow a Training Plan

When it comes to ultramarathons, winging it won’t work. Your training plan is the roadmap that takes you from point A – now – to point B – the finish line at the ultra. Your plan should be created to match your goals and abilities while factoring in the distance you will be running.

There are plenty of reasons to create and stick to a training plan. Some at the top of our list include:

  • Training plans take the stress out of the process and act as motivation to keep going
  • Runners who follow a plan have a higher chance of successfully completing the race
  • A proper plan includes structure and increases your mileage while including rest and recovery time

For shorter distances, many runners don’t follow any set plan. They just run as often as possible, usually a few times a week, which will suffice to get them across the finish line. This will not work with an ultramarathon and can be dangerous. If you don’t have the time to dedicate to a training plan, reconsider entering the ultramarathon.

How to Choose an Ultramarathon

Most runners spend around six months preparing for their ultra, which can take anywhere from 12 hours to several days to complete. Ultramarathons have differing altitudes, technical terrain, and elevation, all of which influence your decision. 

Keep in mind that some ultras allow crews and pacers, while others require you to use their official support staff and drop bags. Either way, teamwork is what will make the dream work. Running an ultra is never going to be easy, no matter how much you train, how many you’ve done, or how flat the course is. Ultra distances are exactly that – ULTRA.

Below, we’ll look at some considerations to remember when choosing an ultra.

Location

Many ultras choose their race in a destination they want to explore. This allows them to combine their race with a holiday. And, while it’s awesome to visit new places and experience different cultures, keep in mind that these locations can also be very costly and may often be more distracting than what you need for your race.

The days before the race require good sleep, proper hydration, and adequate nutrition. If you’ve never run an ultra before, try to find one in a quiet location where you can do all your normal routines without too much disruption.

Number of Participants

Well-known ultras, like the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, can draw in thousands of entrants, whereas others, like the Barkley Marathons, only have around 40 participants. The size of the ultra will determine the experience you’ll have, so you need to know what you’re after. 

A larger race may be what you want if you’d prefer to be surrounded by fellow runners with a fun, motivating, exciting vibe. If you’d rather put your head down and grind away at your goal, aim for a smaller ultra.

Course Features

One of the main upsides to running ultras is that they’re normally set on a route that winds you through beautiful landscapes and breathtaking nature. But if you don’t have this type of environment available to train in, you may find race day very difficult.

We mentioned that trails have factors like elevation, technical trails, and altitude to contend with. Your ability to prepare for these factors could be the difference between failure and success. While you can prepare for Leadville or Western States if you live in New York City, you’ll just need to be more diligent about preparing for the elevation, uneven terrain, and altitude.

If you can’t put in the time or effort required to train for trails that aren’t native to your training grounds, look for an ultra with similar qualities to your training area. If you’re used to flatter routes in cooler climates, don’t sign up for a super hilly race in high temperatures (read: Badwater 135).

Timing

There are two parts to timing: how long it takes to train for the ultramarathon; and how long it takes to prepare for the ultra. The difference is simple. Training for an ultra takes around six months. 

But preparing for the race can take years. Why? Some ultra races require you to sign up a year ahead, join a waitlist, or enter a lottery. Also, ultras often require you to have completed at least one other ultra, which you’ll have to do before entering.

As we said, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably never done an ultra before, which means you’ll need to look for races that allow you to enter with your finish time from a marathon. 

If you’re required to run a trail marathon within a certain time, you may need to schedule that before you can enter an ultra, train for that race, achieve the required time, then enter your desired ultra. You can see why we say training and preparation are two different things.

Must-Have Ultramarathon Gear

Training Essentials for Ultra Running by Jason Koop
Training Essentials for Ultra Running by Jason Koop — We highly recommend it!

Most runners love running for its simple, inexpensive nature. But when it comes to training for and running ultras, you’ll need more gear than half or full marathons.

Required Gear

The duration, terrain, and variable weather conditions experienced during an ultra means that many races provide a required gear list. This list prescribes items like spare headlamp batteries, emergency calories, a rain jacket, and an insulation blanket. 

Carrying these items isn’t particularly challenging, but you should use your long runs to carry all the required items in the pack you’ll be using for the ultra to get the knack of the weight these items add. Plus, you can use this training to determine where’s best to store each item.

Running Shoes

Most of you reading this will already have a favorite running shoe brand, your tried-and-trusted model that fits your foot and you can trust to get you from A to B without blisters and pain. But when it comes to ultras, you’ll step up the mileage in training and the race (obviously).

This means you’ll need to be aware of how much mileage each pair of shoes has done. The last thing you want is to be 60 miles into your ultramarathon and your shoes are broken, rubbing on your Achilles, or have lost all their arch support.

For ultra preparation, replace your running shoes every 300 to 400 miles. Yes, we can hear you sighing just thinking about the cost. But we mentioned earlier that ultras are a costlier animal than marathons.

Once you find the shoes you want to use for your ultra, purchase a few pairs and rotate between them. You’ll likely want to switch between them on race day as your shoes get wet, sweaty, and hot.

Essentials for Ultra Training

As ultra training takes around 6 to 12 months, you’ll be in training year-round. This training will require special gear, so you’re prepared for anything. The last thing you want is rain on your long run day, and you can’t hit the trails because you don’t have a rain jacket.

You’ll need a comfortable high-capacity pack, wind protection, insulation, and trail running shoes (with spikes if it snows where you live). You’ll also need a cap or hat, sunscreen, and a reliable hydration system for training in summer.

Data Tracker

So many fitness trackers are available on the market, recording everything from your heart rate and steps per minute (spm) to your sleep and hydration. How you and your coach use the gathered data is up to you, but keeping track of your heart rate is highly recommended.

With this one metric, you can measure your pace progress, gauge training stress, and ensure you don’t overdo it. Many GPS watches will measure your data with a fair degree of accuracy, but the most accurate heart rate monitor is a chest strap. It’s up to you what data trackers you use, though.

Some runners prefer running based purely on their rate of perceived exertion (RPE), and others can’t do so much as take a shower without their watch, never mind running. The devices you use will depend greatly on your preferences.

Hydration Gear

When you run a half or full marathon, you don’t need to carry any fluids unless you want a specific drink. But when you get into ultras, you’ll need to carry your water and electrolytes because aid stations are few and far between. Part of the allure of ultramarathons is self-sufficiency.

But, to be efficient and self-sufficient, you must have a plan and the right gear for your hydration. You have a few options – handheld bottles, a hydration belt, or a hydration vest/running pack.

A handheld bottle may work best for shorter ultras (30 to 50 miles). Find a bottle that has flexible handles with storage pouches to store food or money. 

A hydration belt is a popular choice for ultras where you have a crew or regular aid stations. These belts are worn around your waist and can fit one or two standard soft water bottles. The main downside with these is that they may bounce a lot when the bottles are full or if you haven’t fitted the belt properly.

Hands down, a pack or vest is the most common hydration choice for ultra runners. A well-fitted pack allows you to carry fluids, fuel, and required gear without putting strain on your lower back and hips. Packs are adjustable to get a good fit so they don’t bounce as you run, but they can be quite bulky.

You can also use a combination of these options for different stages of the race. Remember to practice with it on your long runs, no matter which hydration gear you choose.

Running Poles

Running poles are a divisive issue in ultramarathons. Some runners swear by them due to the stability they offer, and others feel they add complications to what should be a simple sport. Certain races don’t allow poles, some require you to carry them, and others don’t mind one way or the other.

Here are a few pros and cons of using poles so you can choose for yourself:

Pros

  • Increase your stability on varied terrain
  • Light and easy to carry
  • Assist in maintaining your posture
  • Distribute the load between your lower and upper body
  • Help modulate your speed on descents

Cons

  • Can be dangerous to use in some terrain
  • Add weight to your pack
  • May cause damage to the trails
  • Not ideal for running efficiency

If the race you choose allows poles, you’ll need to practice with them to see if they help or hinder you. If you choose not to carry poles, it may be worthwhile giving them to your crew in case you change your mind when on the course.

Crew and Pacers

We mentioned earlier that some ultras allow you to bring a crew and pacers. While this isn’t necessary, seeing familiar faces during your race is great. Your crew will be responsible for providing you with your personalized requirements in nutrition, hydration, and ass-kicking.

A good crew pushes you to the next level; a great crew knows what you want and need before you ask for it. Seeing familiar faces is nice, but if they aren’t great crew members, you may regret that familiarity.

Below, we’ll look at a few things to consider when deciding if you want a crew and pacers.

Should You Have a Crew?

Before you choose a crew, decide if you need or want a crew. This is a personal decision – there’s no right or wrong answer, and it isn’t based on your experience level either. Newbies and experienced runners alike choose not to have crews.

Most races have designated support staff and volunteers at aid stations. Plus, aid stations typically stock plenty of food and drinks, so you can replenish your stores without needing a crew. Having a crew is not a necessity; it’s a nicety.

Who’s Who in the Crew?

Okay, so you’ve decided you want a crew; great! The next step is choosing who will be on your crew. Many runners choose their partners, children, running friends, or schoolmates. But just because you get along doesn’t mean they’ll make good crew members.

The best crews are made up of people who understand you as a person and a runner and have little sympathy for your suffering. Running an ultra is basically one long suffer-fest, and you want people who will tell you to suck it up when you are getting discouraged.

Aligning Your Goals with Your Crew

Before getting your crew into your running strategy and nutrition requirements, walk them through your goals. It’s great that your crew knows you want two gels and a peanut butter sandwich at aid station number 4, but if you haven’t told them that your goal is to be in and out of the station within 5 minutes, you may lose precious minutes as they nonchalantly refill your bottles at a glacial pace. 

If you aren’t going for a time goal and would prefer to have a goal of enjoying the race, let your crew know that you want positive attitudes and smiles when you see them. Your goals are up to you, but make sure your crew is on the same page, or you may be disappointed on the day.

Should You Have a Pacer?

Most longer ultramarathons (100k+) allow pacers in the latter sections of the race. They are sometimes called “safety runners” as they provide support, motivation, and guidance to the runner they’re pacing.

As with the crew, most pacers have great intentions, but if you choose the wrong person, they can negatively impact your race. The person you select as your pacer will run with you during the toughest parts of the race as they’ll join you in the second half. You’ll be tired, in pain, frustrated, and irritable.

Goal misalignments, personality conflicts, and preparation issues can undo even the best-made plans. Having a pacer is also a personal preference, but choose someone you have run many miles with, and you know they have your back in the way you need it.

Your Success Is Always Your Responsibility

Whether you choose to have a crew and pacer or not, your success in the race falls squarely on your shoulders. While your crew or pacer may negatively impact the process, with the correct planning and mindset, you should be able to pull it back again.

Your training and determination are what ultimately determine your success in the race. That’s on you.

Mental Tactics for Your Ultramarathon

We mentioned earlier that an ultra is just as much about your mental fortitude as your physical fitness. And when it comes to ultramarathons, you’re not planning for if things go wrong, but when they go wrong.

Developing your ability to face challenges with a positive mindset will help you overcome any issues you may encounter. We understand this is easier said than done, so we have a few mental tactics you can use when preparing for and running your race.

Set an A, B, and C Goal

Goals are important to keep you focused. But if your only goal is finishing within a certain time, you’ll feel adrift and thrown if that goal slips from your grips. Setting an A, B, and C goal will motivate you even when things force you off your trajectory. 

Give yourself an A goal (the ultimate thing that would be amazing if you could achieve it), and B goal (a consistency goal), and a C goal (a process goal) so you have various options based on how things are going on the day.

Here are examples of what these goals could look like:

  • A goal: Finish within 24 hours.
  • B goal: Hold a consistent pace for each mile in the second half of the ultra
  • C goal: Follow the hydration and nutrition plan

The biggest reason (other than injuries) that runners don’t complete their races is that they get in their heads when their timing goes out, and they don’t have contingency goals.

Tip: When your motivation slips, revisit your goals and pull them to the center of your focus. If you’re a visual person, write your goals on your hand, arm, or a piece of paper you can carry in your pack. Look at these goals whenever you’re stuck in a dark patch.

Focus on the Controlables

When things go awry, don’t focus on the downsides. Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders, and focus on the things you can control. Ultrarunner and coach Jason Koop has great advice when dealing with things out of your control. He calls it his ADAPT strategy:

  • Accept the situation
  • Diagnose the issue
  • Analyze your resources
  • Plan your course of action
  • Take action

This will help you overcome the problem rather than stay stuck in it.

Develop a Growth Mindset

Keep in mind that every runner (and athlete) is on a continuous journey for self-improvement. Whether you achieve your goals or not, you’ll learn many valuable lessons that’ll help you become stronger and more resilient. If you focus on having longevity in running, you’ll learn plenty of beneficial lessons through the years, no matter what result you achieve.

Recovering from Your Ultramarathon

Ultra marathon recovery massage

You finished your ultra – congratulations! What an achievement! Whether the race went as planned or you had a challenging day filled with struggles, you made it. Now you can put your feet up and focus on recovery while you think of new ways to torture yourself.

Run Hard, Recover Harder

Much like running a marathon, you’ll need to give your body plenty of time to recover and repair before jumping back into training. It’s crucial to give your muscles, joints, and tendons time to repair properly, especially after the challenging effort involved in running an ultra.

Most ultra runners give themselves 3 to 4 weeks before returning to their regular running plan. Recovery doesn’t mean you (only) lie on the couch eating chips and watching Netflix. You want to optimize your recovery, so your body comes back ready for training.

Here are a few recovery tips to get your body in tip-top shape:

Jump in the Pool or on the Bike

When recovering, you want to boost blood flow to your muscles. This can only be done with movement. After running an ultra, you need to stick to low-impact activities like swimming or cycling.

If you’re feeling sore or stiff in the days and weeks following your race, pop down to your local pool or onto a stationary bike and enjoy a gentle 30-minute session to get your muscles loosened up and your blood pumping.

Zen Out with Yoga

There aren’t enough good things we can say about yoga. It is one of the best choices for recovery, both post-ultra and during your normal training schedule. It prioritizes stretching and strength-intensive poses that allow you to focus on your breathing while finding pain points and imbalances. If your local yoga studio offers yin yoga, even better!

Body Treatments

Relax and unwind while getting a foot scrub, acupuncture, or a deep tissue massage in the days after your race. Yes, it is an indulgence, but it works as a mental and physical treat with big benefits – nothing loosens those muscles like strong hands and massage oil!

Eat Properly

In the months leading up to your ultra, you followed a healthy diet filled with healthy proteins, carbs, and fats. During the ultra, you likely loaded up on jelly babies, crisps, sweets, and sports drinks. Now that you’re finished with the ultra, you likely want to enjoy all the pizza, burgers, and nuggets you can find. And sure, you can enjoy a post-ultra meal of whatever you feel like.

But then you need to jump straight into recovery food. These foods focus on anti-inflammatory foods loaded with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. Prioritize foods like nuts, legumes, blueberries, dark-green veggies, and lean protein (like fish and chicken breast). These foods are high in nutrients that help speed up recovery.

Focus on Quality Sleep

Sleep is one of the most effective tools in your recovery. In the days following your ultramarathon, turn off your alarm and sleep until your body naturally wakes up. Feel like a nap? Hit the sack! Sleep is powerfully regenerative, and the more you get, the better you’ll feel.

So You Finished Your Ultra; What’s Next?

While you’re putting your legs up and recovering, your mind may start thinking about the next challenge. Take the time to unpack your race and look at what did (and didn’t) work for you. What would you do again, and what needs to be changed?

Consider your pacing, logistics, nutrition, hydration, and training to see what needs work. Once you’ve created an improvement plan, you can start drawing up a training schedule and look at upcoming races that interest you. Then do it all over again!

Becoming an ultra runner is not for the faint-hearted. It takes lots of time, dedication, and planning, so you must be committed to the process. Once you’ve decided to run an ultra, get yourself a coach. They’ll be able to create the perfect plan for your needs and fitness level. The information we’ve gone through is just the start of the journey – good luck!

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Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia Oosthuizen

Revel SPorts Contributor

1 thought on “Ultramarathon Training 101: How to Become A Successful Ultra Distance Runner”

  1. Very helpful information – practical, step-by-step, and doable. Thanks! I’m looking into entering an ultra marathon early next year after many years of wanting to do one, and this has given me lots of motivation.

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