How to Train for an Ultra


Recently I was asked how to train for an ultra marathon and how is training an ultra different from a marathon on Twitter.

I thought the question and answer interesting enough to elaborate here a bit.

Previously I’ve done ultras ranging from 50k to 100 miles and have a treadmill distance personal best of 52.4 miles, so I hope I know a thing our two about going long!

Biggest Differences Between Marathon and Ultra Training

Distance – Obviously a marathon is not an ultra, and an ultra is not a marathon. Also, you must consider that the trend is for marathons to be on the road and ultras to be on trails. This means that typically an ultra is going to take longer than the distance alone may suggest.

Effort and Pace – This is the next big change. A road marathon is “short” enough where you can basically run at a moderate to hard effort the entire time. However an ultra is done at a far far lower effort. You can consider an ultra a very long hike/jog.

Gear – You’re going to likely require more than shoes, socks, and shorts for an ultra. Likely you’ll have crew and drop bags. You may have night running gear

Notice I did not say training or nutrition…

What isn’t Terribly Different Between the Two?

Training – You can only run so many miles per week. Just because you may be training for a race twice as long does not mean you should be running more miles. Typically most people are already running at their upper tolerable limit. There is a difference in that you may do more shorter / faster track workouts for the marathon and more/longer long runs or back to back long runs.

Nutrition – For a marathon a nice nutrition plan is a light breakfast and 100-200 calories hourly during the race while drinking to thirst. You can basically do the same for an ultra. During a 50-100 mile ultra you may need more solid food and/or a few more calories in general, however you can eat fairly similarly between the two races.

Road Marathon VS Trail Ultra

Bonus: Trail Ultra vs Road Marathon – What’s Harder?

This question comes up once in a while in the ultra runner circles.

My two cents is the road marathon is more difficult than a 50k-50mi trail ultra. The reason for this is that the trail ultra is more of a relaxed pace, likely with some walking, and more just to finish. The road marathons are typically flatter and faster with much less variation in pace and more importance placed on speed.

On the other hand if the trail ultra is technical, you have to be much more mentally on your game to watch your footing during the run. Yet the road marathon could have long stretches of boredom.

It of course depends on the exact race!

What do you think is or would be more difficult?!?


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