Training Tips for an Ultra Marathon

Seattle native Scott Jurek set a new American Record in the 24 hour run last week. Scott ran 165.28 miles in those 24 hours. That works out to be about 6:52 mile pace. Pretty incredible. Scott basically ran more than six 3 hour marathons in a row! The record was set at the International Association of Ultrarunners’ 24 Hour Run World Championship held in Brive, France. The old American record was 162 miles, which was set by Mark Godale in 1999.

I have always had a fascination with ultra running. I don’t think I personally would have the time to train for a 100 mile race, but the dedication that these athletes have is nothing short of astounding. In order to properly train for an ultra race, runners really need to focus on good, quality long runs that can range up to 30 or 40 miles. Just as proper marathon training requires a solid long runs to condition the body’s endurance, these long distance training sessions become all the more important for a 50 or 100 mile race.

Although I have never run an ultra before, I have many friends that regularly compete in these races and love them. According to them, there is nothing like the sense of accomplishment from finishing an ultra. Here are some tips if you are starting to think that the 26.2 miles of a marathon is just too short:

Mental training: Most of the difficulty of a ultra race is the fatigue that a runner’s mind suffers. Therefore, it is very important to gut out your long runs and cross training sessions even if you don’t feel like it. You have to condition the mind to accept the pain and, frankly, boredom that can come from running 50 miles. In ultra races, it is often the runner with the strongest will, rather than the most talent, that runs the best time.

Practice Eating and Drinking: Considering that an ultra race can last at least 5-6 hours, you will have to learn how to fuel your body with both solid food and fluids while running. The human body’s glycogen stores only last through about 20 miles of running, so you’ll have to replenish them. Experiment with the various energy gels and fluids that are on the market now. Make sure you test each product that you plan to use on your long runs to ensure that they do not hurt your stomach. Also, try to consume the products while actually running…this can be more tricky than it looks. I have accidentally poured more than one cup of water up my nose during long races.

Run (or Walk) Smart: One of the biggest mistakes that an ultra runner can make is to get caught up in the excitement of the start of a race and run faster than originally planned. This almost always leads to disaster in the latter half of the run. Stick to your preset goals. Don’t worry about the large number of runners passing you at the start; you will most likely pass them before the race is over. Also, do not be afraid to walk. Taking smart walk breaks and consuming an energy gel if you feel your body breaking down can allow the body to recharge. Blindly pushing through pain in order to keep running can have a disastrous affect on your race.

Crew: Choose your crew carefully. Especially in the longer 100 mile races, these are the people will support you through all of the trials and tribulations of an ultra marathon. It’s best if they have experience with ultra races and understand what motivates you. Choosing the right people for your crew ensures that your mind and body will be properly fueled for the race.

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