Ultramarathons are running competitions longer than a regular marathon distance. Previously, it was not possible for running.COACH users to define goals for distances longer than 42,2km. We have now removed this limit, so that you can also define target competitions exceeding the marathon distance.
Running.COACH is best designed for distances between 5km and the marathon. For ultradistances, the marathon plan will be used as a training guideline. The following guide provides you with a basis on which to build your training for the even longer distances.
Goal ultramarathon – This is what you should consider
Important to start with: An ultramarathon is a nice and exciting goal. However, it should be thoroughly planned and thought through. It makes little sense to define an ultramarathon as your goal, if you have never even run a marathon. Our running.COACH training plan and this guide provide you with a good training structure. Try to integrate it into your training.
It is important to remember that the preconditions are very individual. This guide should accompany you on your way to your goals. However, you should always listen to your own body! Each runner reacts differently to the large amount of training which the preparation for ultradistances involves. This is also the reason why we don’t offer predefined training schedules, but let our users adjust the plan themselves.
Adaptation of the systems
While the running times at a marathon lie between 2 and 6 hours, they can easily add up to 10 to 30 hours or more for ultramarathons. Thus, finishing an ultramarathon requires different preconditions than a marathon. Your body must be able to endure extremely long-lasting stress. The overall stress is clearly higher in ultramarathon, even if the acute stress might be lower, as a result of the lower running pace. One important factor are our energy systems. On the one hand, our body needs to learn to better access its own energy systems and, on the other hand, our external energy supply needs to be optimised.
If you set an ultramarathon as your goal, you necessarily have to increase your training amount. This means more stress for your body, which in turn implies risks of over-training or injuries. Therefore, a gradual build-up of your training is extremely important. Your body has to be carefully prepared and guided towards the new training amount. While muscles and the cardiovascular system adapt to increased stress relatively quickly, the passive system comprising ligaments, bones, cartilage and tendons needs a lot more time. This needs to be taken into account in your training, too.
Questions around ultratraining
In running.COACH, training is structured and built-up intelligently, varying greatly in length and duration of sessions. The training load or intensity is gradually built up towards the predefined goal. This variation in training length and duration and the gradual building up of the training load is of great importance with regard to ultramarathon.
How often should I train for an ultramarathon?
Running.COACH gives you the possibility of choosing your training days yourself. The plan adapts to your individual weekly schedules and it then distributes the training sessions to your assigned time slots. If this is your first time training for an ultramarathon, we recommend that you don’t change the number of training sessions. For ultramarathons, indifferent from your individual level, we suggest that you plan at least 4 endurance sessions per week. As we will see later, these can also be alternative training sessions. If you are used to conducting more than four endurance sessions a week, keep that up.
Do I have to include high-intensity training for ultra distances?
This question keeps turning up in the context of ultrarunning training. What’s the use of an interval session of, for example, 5x4min with 2min breaks? Do I really need high-intensity training in order to be able to run faster on ultradistances? The answer is: yes, absolutely!
Training in the area of the anaerobic threshold and above is a real challenge for your body and it tunes your body for unusual stress. The primary goal of these kinds of training is to improve our aerobic capacity. The higher the aerobic capacity, the more oxygen can be taken up and the faster and the longer we are able to run. In science, maximum oxygen uptake capacity is referred to as VO2max. Male top endurance athletes have a maximum oxygen uptake capacity of 70-80ml/min/kg, exceptional athletes like Kilian Jornet (90ml/min/kg) or Chris Froome (88.2ml/min/kg) even a little bit more.
A simple way to understand the advantages of a high VO2max value is the comparison with cars. A Ferrari with a maximum speed of over 300km/h would cruise along quite smoothly at a speed of 150km/h, the gas only carefully pushed down. A car with a maximum speed of 170km/h, however, would be rather close to its limit at 150km/h and it would probably start to sound quite a bit.
Thus, the goal is to increase your maximum oxygen uptake capacity by the help of specific interval training. This should enable you to run a certain pace on less oxygen, eventually improving your speed capacities. The individual maximum oxygen uptake capacity is partly genetically conditioned, but can be improved by 10-30% through regular training. The maximum oxygen uptake capacity drops when you get older. By the help of high-intensity trainings as mentioned above, however, this process can be slowed down.
How long do I have to train for an ultramarathon?
It is almost inevitable to train a high number of kilometres in order for your body to adapt to running long distances and to saving energy. In addition to the number of kilometres, depending on which competition you aim for, metres of climb are decisive as well – uphill and downhill!
A rule for ultramarathon training is: no ultradistances in training! In order to complete the most popular ultramarathon in the world, the Comrades Marathon in South Africa (89km), for example, you don’t have to have run 70km in one go beforehand. You can use the 50% rule as a general rule. That is, for the example above, 45km in relevant terrain are enough for your longest training!
The running.COACH training plan orients to the competitions which you have assigned the highest priority. Training is then structured into different cycles, medium and long-term. The training load is gradually increased and varies from week to week. This periodisation should also be considered for ultratraining, in order for stress and recovery to be balanced.
Adaption running.COACH training plan
As you have learnt, a lot of points have to be considered when planning your training. Running.COACH provides you with a perfectly balanced training routine for distances up to marathon. A normal training week for ultramarathon differs from that of a regular marathon in a few points. Here are our tips for optimal training:
Conduct your intervals and medium pace trainings according to plan. You might want to extend your cool-down by about 20 minutes though.
Depending on target distance, you can extend the long run by 25% (competitions up to 60km) to maximum 60% (competitions up to 100km). Try to train in relevant terrain for the target competition and train according to time rather than distance. The pace for the adjusted long run should be 15-30s slower than recommended by running.COACH (in flat courses).
Plan another training on the day before or after the long run. Extend the duration of this session by about 50%. This extension of two trainings in a row can improve stress resistance. At the same time, the relatively short recovery time between the sessions serves as a proxy for the stress that awaits you at the competition.
Steady run 1, steady run 2 and recovery
The remaining running sessions (steady run 1, steady run 2 and recovery) can be conducted exactly according to the recommendations provided by running.COACH. Try to stick to the recommendations as closely as possible.
Try to conduct a major part of your training in terrain which is relevant for the competition you aim for. If you train for an ultramarathon with a lot of climb, include as much climb in your training as possible. Hill drills are also an ideal preparation.
If your target competition includes a lot of negative climb, you should absolutely consider this in your training. Normally, it is not the positive climb that causes muscular problems after a competition, but the negative climb, or the kilometres in the flat. So, run downhill, too!
Sports like cycling, cross-country skiing and ski-touring are ideal additional trainings, providing new stimuli. The training amount can be increased by including those alternative sports, without increasing the risk of injury.
Alternative training methods require different muscle groups, which renders your training more varied and gentler. The main advantage, however, lies in the training of the cardiovascular system and the positive effect on your fat metabolism.
Alternative training durations should be approximately 150% of those of a running session.
Tip: Mix alternative trainings with running training. For example, prolong your long run (conducted according to the recommendation given by running.COACH) with an additional alternative sport. Advantages:
- The stress duration is long à ideal for both your cardiovascular and your energy system
- Stress on passive structures is minimal à reduced risk of injury
Regular stabilisation and strength training are especially important for the long-lasting stress of an ultramarathon. Even the best motor is of no use if the chassis doesn’t bear the stress.
Feel your body!
Training can and should be challenging. However, it is important that you listen to your body and that you take signs of tiredness, injuries and overloads seriously.
Eat healthy and balanced (runningfood). Tip: for long trainings or competition, a good fat metabolism is utterly important. In order to train this efficiently, it can be rewarding to conduct trainings on empty stomach at times. Be careful to extend durations of trainings executed on empty stomach step by step. This gives your body time to optimally adapt to the changes.
Training includes recovery! Try to get enough sleep and take other measures to support recovery, such as stretching, Yoga or massage.
The most important thing: Have fun with what you do! Training with others can heighten the fun factor. Meet up with friends for training and take them with you for long trainings!
We wish you a lot of fun on your way to your personal goals! We hope that running.COACH and this guide provide you with some useful training advice.
If you are still a bit unsure about how much or what to train, register for running.COACH. Maybe, even individual coaching in the form of a running.COACH Gold subscription could be a suitable option.
Entry written by: Gabriel Lombriser, running.COACH product manager and running coach