Tom Craggs is a top endurance coach, working with athletes of all abilities to help them achieve their goals. In this article he focuses on his top tips for ultramarathon training.
‘Going longer’ that is to say, going longer than the classic 26.2 marathon distance, is becoming increasingly popular with runners challenging themselves over longer distances from 50k right through to 100 mile races and beyond. In this article we cover our top training tips for ultramarathon training.
- More than miles: Time on feet is certainly important but don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about easy miles. ‘Quality’ sessions should still feature in your weekly mix.
Try this: Build in a weekly ‘tempo’ run where you get used to building up blocks of time a ‘controlled discomfort’ or 3-4 word answer effort. Within a 45-60 minute run start with a simple 5 x 5 minutes at this effort with a short 90 second jogged recovery and then build to 6 x 5 minutes, 3 x 10 minutes, 20/10/5 minutes or even 30 minutes continuously as the week’s progress.
- The hills are alive: Ultras need strength, no you don’t need to look like a body builder but what you do need is strength endurance – the ability to hold your effort and posture with many miles already in the legs.
Try this: One way to do this could be to run the ‘tempo effort’ runs above up and down a stretch of hill – getting used to running faster up AND down hill is great for building all around strength.
- Love your limbs: Your legs and feet will take a hard going over in your ultra races and from all the miles in training. Develop some good recovery protocols to keep your limbs alive and ticking.
Try this: A sports massage every 2-3 weeks can really help keep on top of a build-up in muscle fatigue, compression garments both on the run and to promote post run recovery can be useful and look after your key weapon, your feet, by wearing OOFOS shoes – especially after those key long runs and hard sessions.
- On your hike: If you are running a longer distance ultra or racing in the mountains the chances are you’ll be walking for stretches on race day. Don’t let your ego ruin a great race by not practising this in training – don’t be surprised on race day if an effective walker overtakes you as you try to run if you haven’t practised!
Try this: Practise ‘power walking’ especially on steep gradients replacing running with a powerful walk, leaning forwards slightly to mimic the gradient of the hill, either driving your arms or handing your hands on your quads on very steep gradients.
- Surface level: Ultra training is all about specificity – that means getting your body prepared for what you will find on race day, and this includes getting used to the surface you’re going to race on.
Try this: Whether running a 5k or an ultra I would always recommend doing the majority of your miles off road, but why not try including stretches of running on your ‘race terrain’ in the final 60-90 minutes of your key long runs – whether that be on steep technical hills, or flat road or track surfaces.
- Find a balance: A effective training regime is all about balance – balancing the stress of training with the right amount and quality of recovery to progress as we get fitter when we recover, not when we train.
Try this: Train to a plan that is realistic and recognises your other life stresses such as work and family. Be very careful in particular with your long runs, there have been many ultra runners who leave themselves exhausted by trying to run too far or tackle back to back long runs when they are not ready.
- Eat for victory: Training fasted or when deplete to often or too far will massively impact on your recovery, on race day your fuelling strategy will make or break your performance and you must practise eating and drinking on the move in training.
Try this: Solid foods are a sensible option if you are tackling a long distance ultra but they can take some getting used to when running….that’s what training is for!
- Test yourself: Practice your race kit, pacing and fuelling so when the gun goes on race day you feel confident and have a plan.
Try this: Consider entering a 10k, half or if you are experienced even a marathon but complete it in your ultra kit, fuelling as per your ultra and at your ultra race pace. This way you’ll learn to control your ego which will tell you to go faster than you should do!
Tom has teamed up with OOFOS recovery footwear which could give your feet a nice rest after ultra training!