Ultra marathon training top tips

I am in no way an expert ultra runner. I still have so so much experience to gain, so many miles to cover on trails and so much to learn about endurance running training and racing before I would ever call myself an experienced ultra runner. But I am learning a bit more with every race.

Two weeks ago I ran the UTML 75km ultra in Luxembourg (a beautiful race by the way, really recommend it!). And I wanted to share a few lessons I learned whilst training for this long distance event. I hope you find them helpful!

Lesson 1: Know why you are doing it

Ultra marathon training  takes commitment and motivation. In order to arrive at the start line ready to race at your best you can’t really avoid putting in the training hours (unless you are a superhuman).  And even if you absolutely love running there will almost certainly be times during your training where you just don’t feel like it. And that’s when it is important to know exactly what motivated you to run an ultra in the fist place.

Before I started training for the UTML I wrote down why I had decided to sign up to this race and what my end goal was. Whenever I had little motivation lows I would read what I had written to remind myself of why I was training. That was enough to get my motivation level back up and enjoy the training session.

ultra marathon training
Still dark!

Lesson 2: Don’t leave out speed work from your training

Of course you are not going to run an ultra marathon at the same pace than a road half-marathon but that doesn’t mean that you can’t include some speed sessions into your training.

I did hill reps and interval sessions once a week during my ultra preparation and I found that it really helped improve my running technique and feel stronger uphills. Plus, running fast and going all out during a training session is super fun!

Here are some examples of the speed work sessions I did (most of them are from the training book Running Your First Ultra by Krissy Moehl):

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 min intervals on the flat with equal recovery in between
  • 6-8 times 5 min repeats on the flat with 1 min recovery in between
  • 10, 8, 6, 3, 2, 1 min up hill with half time recovery down hill
  • 2, 4, 6, 6, 4, 2 min up hill with equal recovery down hill
  • 5 times 5 min up hill with 1min recovery down hill

Lesson 3: Complement running miles with core and strength work

I love core & strength sessions. Especially with loud music in the background. And as an added bonus I am convinced that it helps improve running performance.

First of all I find that core and strength work makes me feel more connected to my body which helps me detect more easily when something starts not feeling right. And secondly I feel like it helps improve my running form (especially towards the end of the race when you start getting tired).

When training for the UTML I did about two to three 30-40min core and strength sessions  a week. This is what a session usually looked like:

ultra marathon training
One of my typical core & strength session

Lesson 4: Visualise the race course

When I first heard of visualisation techniques I didn’t really believe that sitting down and playing out a situation in your mind could have any effect on your performance. But I gave it a go and I have to admit, it really helped me feel more confident on race day.

Here is what I did: a few weeks before the race I printed off the course map and pinned it on the wall above my desk so I would see it every day. I used long training runs to get to know the trail so I could visualise each section when looking at the map.

During the week leading up to the race I also took a few minutes every day to visualise the technical sections on the course (at least the one I could remember) and crossing the finish line.

Of course visualisation is not a substitute for physical training but I do think that preparing not just your body but also your mind for an ultra can help boost confidence and performance. 

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