Training for Ultra-Runs

The training for an ultra-marathon goes way beyond what is described in this book. However, many of the same running principles apply. For example, you cannot jump from here to there. Building mileage slowly and systematically is the key to preparing properly while reducing the likelihood of injury. Stretching is still important.

Physical Preparation

How do ultra-runners cover these long distances, both in training and during the actual events? The evolution of Jeff Galloway's famous Run-Walk-Run™ marathon training method can perhaps be traced to the cornerstone of ultra-training, which consists of interspersing running with frequent walking breaks.

The specific ratio of walking to running varies depending largely on the experience and ability level of the ultra-runner. Some throw in a 2-minute walking break for every mile run. Others may find that walking 3 minutes for every 10 minutes running enables them to cover increasingly longer distances.

For this strategy to be effective, you must implement walking breaks at the beginning of the run or race, not when your leg muscles are at the point of fatigue or breakdown. In short, regularly scheduled walking breaks greatly increase the ultra-runner's range, in comparison with running the entire training or racing distance. Including frequent walking also reduces the wear and tear on the leg muscles, a critical injury-prevention strategy.


Psychologically, the ultra-marathon requires new adjustments. One of the challenges is finding ways to pass hours and hours of time mentally. Ultra-runners comment that there is no limit to the variety of topics they think about while running, ranging from the practical and conventional to the absurd!

More competitive ultra-runners integrate advanced training techniques emphasizing strength and endurance into their training schedules. These include speed workouts focusing on longer repeat interval distances (fast-paced running for 800 meters and longer) as well as the inclusion of hill training.

In short, their workouts are quite different from that of those racing much shorter distances, such as the 5K or 10K, although they follow the same advanced training guidelines and precautions. However, ultra-runners practice speed work and hill training as discussed in earlier chapters. Nutrition is still paramount. Weight training is still important. And coaches in the sport still caution their runners not to overtrain, if that seems possible in preparing for such events.

Other Preparations

Nutritionally, ultra-marathoners eat greater quantities, and they eat more frequently during their events than marathoners. Their training schedules tend to be made up of more long runs than in those of marathoners. Because the weather conditions during these extra-long events can change drastically (due to topographical variations of the course along with the range from morning to night), ultra-runners must be prepared to add or strip multiple layers of clothing at a moment's notice.

The same changeability can be said about terrain. One minute these athletes are running through the desert, and an hour later they may be climbing a mountain. An ultra-runner has to be thoroughly prepared for competing in such an event.

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