Tips to Train For Your First Ultramarathon
As a runner, you may find that after a while, the same ol’, same ol’ no longer satisfies you. You may have spent years training to whittle down all your road Personal Bests from distances ranging from the 1 mile all the way up to the 26.2-mile marathon, and there may come a day when you decide that enough is enough. You may finally feel satisfied with how your running has fared after all these years, but running in the absence of a readily-quantifiable goal may be too scary or intimidating for you.
What’s a runner to do?
Solution: train for your first ultramarathon.
Before you scoff at the idea of running an ultramarathon, hear me out. If you’ve been training seriously for years, the transition to ultramarathon training may be less daunting than you imagine. Even if you haven’t been training for endurance events, such as half marathons or marathons, for a long time, it’s still completely doable to train for your first ultramarathon and still have a life (and your sanity).
Below, I’ll share some tips and suggestions that’ll help guide you to prepare for your first ultramarathon while keeping your sanity intact.
- Pick a goal race that gives you enough time to train. Before you jump headfirst into training, take a look at your calendar over the next few months to a year. Decide when would be a good time of year to train for an ultra — paying particular attention to the heightened demands that your job, family, or school may throw at you at different times of the year — and select your race accordingly. It’s also important to undergo this process because it’ll give you an opportunity to reflect and see how much time you think you need in order to properly prepare for your first ultra so you can show up to the starting line fit, healthy, and ready to rumble. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, so do yourself a solid and make sure you can do the training justice before jumping into it blindly.
- Consider working with an ultra coach. Of course, you can absolutely download ultramarathon plans online or check-out resources from your local library, but there are always inherent risks when you use a cookie-cutter type of training plan. If your finances allow, seriously consider hiring a coach who’s experienced with ultrarunning. Doing so can take the guesswork out of your racing and training, and it may be a huge mental reprieve to put your training into someone else’s hands for the months that you’ll be devoting to the challenge.
- Carve out time each week for the back-to-back long runs. Typically, a big part of ultramarathon training includes back-to-back long runs, and for many people, this means running long on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It can be hard to wake up early both days of the weekend after working all week, but doing so will be essential to ensuring that you’ll be able to complete your training. Plus, if you wake up early to complete your weekend back-to-back long runs, you’ll find that you still have most of your weekend available to hang out with your friends, spend time with your family, and do other non-running things. Sure, you may be tired, but you’ll still be around and won’t be losing your entire weekend days to running hours and hours on end (while others are waiting for you to hurry up and finish!).
- Run when the opportunity presents itself. When you’re training for an ultra, chances are high that you’ll be training to fit in as many miles as possible or as many as your body allows you to handle each week. This may mean that you run at different times of day than you’re accustomed to, such as early morning, late night, or during your lunch break. My advice? Always be prepared. Keep a spare change of running clothes at work or in your car, and if the opportunity presents itself to go run, take it more often than not. In this regard, many ultrarunners commit to running doubles (or even triples) during their training process — referring to running twice or even three times a day — but definitely listen to your body. Some people can better handle that volume than others
- Keep it social, and enlist the camaraderie of your friends whenever humanly possible. It can feel isolating when you’re training for your first ultra, like all you’re doing is running all the time. One way around that is to make it as social as possible. This can include any number of possibilities, such as running with your family — perhaps going for a run alongside them while they ride bikes or while you push your kids in a stroller — or inviting friends to go out on long runs with you. Even if your family members and friends don’t run the entire two, three, four, or five hours as you, sharing even a little bit of that time with them will make your miles more meaningful and more memorable. Plus, you’ll probably be less likely to feel that all you’re doing is running running running all the time. Savor the social elements that this sport can facilitate
- Continue to race to keep the fire burning. Finally, even if you’re not doing speedwork or hard workouts during your ultra training, I’d still encourage you to jump into some races from time to time. They can be short, local 5ks or perhaps even marathons; spending the time racing alongside other people, regardless of how fast you may be, can help to break up the tedium that can sometimes result from ultra training. Not everyone is keen to pay for what’ll essentially amount as a training run, but sometimes I think the pros outweigh the cons.
Training for an ultramarathon can be a ton of fun, and if done properly, it can also be one of the most enjoyable and memorable parts of your running journey. Sometimes people feel like they’re losing their mind and just running forever and ever during ultramarathon training, but that doesn’t have to be the case. With a bit of planning — and with a whole lot of help from your family and friends — it’s totally possible to have an amazing time training for your first ultramarathon while still keeping your sanity.