Are you adventurous? Do you love running? Are you an ultra runner? If you aren't already an ultra runner and you answered yes to the first two questions you might be training for your first ultramarathon before you know it! From training, tips, and gear, we’ve got everything you need to know so you can start your (long) ultra journey!
What is an ultramarathon?
An ultramarathon is a long distance cross country race that is longer than a traditional marathon of 26.2 miles. Ultramarathons range from 30-100 miles and are typically run on mostly trails and roads. Timed ultra marathons last anywhere from 6, 12, or 24 hours. If the event lasts longer than a day, they can last anywhere from 3, 6 or 10 days.
Looking at all these numbers might be overwhelming, but that's what training is for! Check out our tips so you can get started.
Training for an Ultra Marathon
Build your mileage over time. If you aren’t in shape or have never ran a half or full marathon, it might be wise to start with those training schedules, as they get you from a baseline of 3 miles up to 13.1 or 26.2. Do your research and find a half, full, or ultramarathon training schedule that works for you online. Remember, they can always be modified to fit your needs.
If you want to jump right into it, here’s what you should consider to help get you going.
- Run long, back-to-back, easy to moderately paced runs. These runs should be about half as long as your ultra marathon will be, and run about the same distance the next. This means if your ultramarathon is 50 miles, run 25 miles one day and 15-20 miles the next day to get you ready for your race.
- Don’t ignore speed training. Although speed isn’t the point of ultramarathons, it does help increase endurance, which is something you need during any type of run or workout.
- Train on hills and trails. Many, if not most ultramarathons are located on trails, hills and any type of terrain you might come across. You want to make sure you’re prepared for it.
Pro Tip 1: Make your runs an adventure, not just a boring old run. If you don't try to enjoy your training and make it work for you how are you going to do the real thing? Training doesn't have to be daunting. Pick a place with nice views to do your training so it’s that much better! In other words, make it interesting.
Pro Tip 2: Don’t feel like you have to run the whole time. During a 100 mile race, it’s okay to hike up hills. During training or shorter races, try running up hills, they increase strength and help build endurance, but if it gets too hard, hike it (it’s totally fine).
Challenges of Ultra Running
Setting your goals is important here so you can make it to the finish line. These long runs are very challenging, so don’t let them tear you apart!
Ultrarunning is not only incredibly physically and mentally challenging due to the long miles over a certain span of time, but there are also trail challenges you need to consider when you’re out there. With any outdoor activity comes a risk of hitting some bad weather, so you’ll want to be prepared for things like rain and changes in the weather, elevation changes, obstacles such as tree roots etc., and different varied terrain. Make sure to add these things into your training as well (elevation, obstacles, and varied terrain) so you can really get a taste of what you’re in for.
Pro Tip: Mental and physical challenges can be tough. We recommend finding a buddy or a running group to train with and help motivate you to reach your goals.
If you're putting in some serious miles over several hours (or days) you're going to need some fuel to keep you going. While it might not be ideal to eat during the course of your run, it's extremely important and it cannot be stressed enough.
Many marathon runners will often eat energy bars and gels throughout their runs, but those only last a few hours. Ultra runs can last days and if you want to eat nothing but energy bars and gels, go for it, but we have some other suggestions. Sweet potatoes, avocado on bread, fruit, nuts, soup, and dried meats are all things you can eat over the course of your run. Just make sure to try them during your training to make sure you feel your best!
Pro Tip 1: Definitely don’t eat nothing. You’ll be burning a lot of calories that your body will need to replenish so you can keep pushing through. Food is fuel people!
Pro Tip 2: Don’t forget about electrolytes either! Most runners will need to supplement with salt or electrolyte tablets if they’re out for more than five hours (any ultra run) or if they’re sweating a lot in warmer temperatures. Do what you need to do to keep going!
Pro Tip 3: Refuel within 30 minutes of a run with a mix of carbs and protein. While you’re running, try to take a bite of something every 20 minutes to keep up with the calories you are burning.
Since you’ll be out there for a day or more, your gear is important. Here’s some gear several ultramarathon runners recommend:
- Hydration Pack. Handheld water bottles are great for runs less than 20 miles, but since most ultra runs are longer, hydration packs are a must.
- Lightweight Rain Jacket. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the rain without a jacket when you’re 20 miles from the car.
- Lightweight Gloves. Because no one likes cold hands. Try Smartwool’s PhD HyFi Training Glove or any lightweight gloves that will keep your fingers warm.
- Hat. Hats are great, especially for sun protection.
- Headlamp. If you’re running a very long ultra run that will leave you on the trails and running at night, a headlamp is a must.
- High-quality Running Socks. A good pair of durable, high-quality socks will offer the comfort you need to keep you going even longer! Shop Socks
Happy “adventure running”!