This site focuses on ultrarunning, and significant amount of this site will be dedicated to running more than 100 miles. But we realize that a fair number of people are still growing their abilities and may be curious how we train. Below are some of the basics. We will post more specific training updates down the line.
Ultrarunners are used to getting a certain set of questions when sane people learn what we do for fun.
The conversation normally starts with a look a of disbelief followed by, ” … wait, how far?”
Then it progresses to the obligatory, “I don’t even like to drive that far,” to which I always reply that I don’t like to drive that far either.
Eventually, if the person is curious enough — or another runner — they ask how we train to run such long distances.
The most important thing to consider when looking around online at training plans or theories, is to remember that everyone is an experiment of one. What works for one person may not for another.
Some people need to run high mileage to be successful in this sport, others can get by with 45-mile weeks and still go sub-24 at a 100-mile race.
A great example of this is Sara. When I met her, she was nailing great times at shorter races while only running 35 to 40 miles a week. Over time, with an eye on the 200s, she has built her mileage to 60 to 70 miles a week.
She is without a doubt a stronger (and less injury-prone) runner today, showing you can be successful following both concepts.
Everyone is different, you have to figure out what works for you.
The key is to experiment and listen to your body. Ask yourself:
- Do you do better with back-to-back long runs or one extra-long run a week?
- Do you feel better with more rest days?
- Are you eating to support your training? Do you need to eat real food on your long runs or can you eat candy and gels?
Also, realize that what works for you will change and evolve over time. When something stops working, be willing to change direction and figure out what will work.
This goes not just for training, but also your gear and you diet.
When I first returned to back to running I searched the internet for a great marathon training plan. There are a ton of resources out there, but I chose a plan from Hal Higdon’s site. His plans got me through my initial goals as a marathon runner, but eventually I moved beyond that distance and began to experiment with my training.
One principle that I maintained from his structure though is the two-up-one-down training pattern. That would mean I would have two solid weeks of high mileage followed by one week of easy running and rest.
My “down” week would be approximately half of the mileage of the previous “up” weeks, and I cut my runs down from six days to five.
The importance of this pattern is the forced rest. Think of it as a “mini taper,” allowing your body to take a week and recover. Without the rest week I tend to have set backs caused by minor injuries (fuck aqua jogging).
The down week also allows some balance while building the habit of running. When you start to see progress in your performance, there can be a natural tendency to try to push through and skimp on recovery. This will lead you straight to your local sports medicine doctor and cost you weeks of training.
The biggest key to my progress with ultras has been consistency. On each training day, the question isn’t if I should run but when.
For 18 months I ran at least one mile a day to build the habit and stay on track. I’m mindful of consistency in the quantity of days I run, and also in the quality and building mileage.
It is not easy finding the motivation to get out there every day. But if you work at making it a habit, it becomes like brushing your teeth. If you go to bed without brushing your teeth, you’ll lay there at night with dentist guilt.
The same goes for running, make it a habit and it’ll become a routine part of your day. Eventually, if the habit gets strong enough you’ll throw on your shoes and head out for a mile or two (wear a reflective vest and bring a light).
Being consistent in your running also means being consistent in your recovery days. Even on “up” weeks I always take one rest day where I don’t run. This gives my body — and my brain — a little break.
Extra time off when you need it is perfectly fine.
You can’t become a better runner while you’re recovering from a stress fracture — plus pool running or aqua jogging sucks.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and ignore the warning signs from your body. If your legs feel heavy and slow, or if you are just constantly tired, throw in some extra rest. It is always better to go into a race undertrained than broken.
Where Should You Start?
How do you get started?
Pick a race or an end goal and build a schedule, then put your schedule down on a calendar or into an app. A great tool on most smartphones is the reminders or calendar apps.
Schedule your runs just like you would any other important task and you’re more likely to follow through. Go in on Sunday and set a reminder or schedule a meeting maker for each day at about the time you plan to run.
For weekly mileage, a good starting point is aiming for four or five runs a week, in a two-up-one-down pattern. As you build your endurance base — if you’re feeling strong and healthy — you can add another day of running to your week.
Eventually, if you want to, you can add another “up” week to your cycle. Keep in mind that rest is important that growing in this sport takes effort and patience.