Specific training is based on the type of race; trails (technical and non-technical), road, mountain, or stage races. Probably 90% or more of ultras are on trails. A 50K on the trail to me is easier than a road marathon. Trails require a little more preparation in getting ready for, but it’s more fun and it’s about getting to the finish line in one piece. You should train on similar terrain to what you plan to race on. I like to mix it up with road and trails. Here are a few things you should consider.
Get in Long Runs. The distance usually depends on the length of race you are training for and how much time you have to train before your race. Don’t worry, the mileage won’t be the same distance as the race as your body needs time to recover from these longer durations. These runs will improve muscle strength, stamina, and aerobic capacity. During the long run, it’s good to focus on managing the effort and making sure it’s sustainable. Sometimes I do easy efforts for a long run and other times I have a specific workout and pace I’m trying to hold. It’s also ok to walk and in some races depending on difficulty it can be more efficient to walk rather than run. For my first ultra I ran from aid station to aid station and walked while I was refueling at each aid station.
Back-to-Back long runs are another important workout when training for ultras. That means doing a long run for two consecutive days. I typically do these on the weekends as I have more time to train with my schedule. It might be 20 miles both days or sometimes even longer depending what I’m training for. Getting use to running on tired legs should be part of your training plan and will help you handle fatigue. It will be challenging at first, but it gets easier the more times you do this as your body will learn how to recovery more efficiently. This is really when you learn the importance of pacing yourself and fueling properly so you are recovered and ready for the next one. I tend to focus quite a bit on form and running efficiency on day two because my body is tired and my form is more likely to break down.
Do some of your training on trails that will simulate conditions on the race course. You need to know what it’s like and be able to practice on technique. You will also find that your pace is typically not the same or as fast as on the road. Find a shoe that is a good fit for you and is appropriate for the terrain you will be running. There are trails shoes specifically designed for certain trails which have a lot more traction than road running shoes. Practice running in them and make sure you are comfortable. It’s also a good idea to begin tracking your miles and rotating your shoes. I have at least five models that I rotate depending on where I run and the type of running I’m doing.
Be patient and don’t rush into speed work. It can take months of base work to get prepared for an ultra. Easy running up front is best for your aerobic capacity and endurance. I haven’t lost much speed since training for ultras and have still been able to set PR’s in shorter distance races due to having a stronger engine.
Incorporate strength and core exercises into your routine as well as stability exercises at least a couple times a week. This could be as simple as combining basic core exercises with lunges, squats, and bounding drills. This will help you run stronger and allow you to maintain your form much longer. If you have access to a PT or Running Coach, ask them for some specific strength and conditioning exercises.
Last but not least, recovery and rest days are just as important as any workout. I’ve learned a lot about recovery and the importance of ongoing maintenance. You must dial it back when the purpose of a workout is a recovery run. Once I changed my perception on this I noticed a huge difference and saw the most gains in my training. I do lots of easy runs and slow my pace quite a bit so I’m fresh for the next workout. I’m able to give more on the harder days when it counts the most. The rest day is an opportunity for your body to adapt to the previous training load and ultimately get stronger. Every athlete is different and some may need more than one day off a week. You have to learn what works best for you. I have found that routine massages and making frequent visits to my sports doctor has allowed me to recover quicker.