In this four week series, professional online ultrarunning coach and the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra (www.royalparksultra.com) coach, Ian Sharman (www.sharmanian.com), shares his knowledge of how to prepare for ultras. Ian ran the fastest trail 100-miler ever in the US in 2011 at the Rocky Raccoon 100, in 12h44m, and is a member of the North Face and Clif Bar ultra teams.
Part 1: How to Move Up In Distance
Ultrarunning can seem daunting to many runners due to stories about pushing through the night or hobbling for more hours in a race than most people sleep for. Yet, it can be deceptively simple and addictive once you give it a chance. How else can you find yourself in the middle of a desert with a line of headlamps stretching into the night, or half-way up a mountain seeing jaw-dropping views that your office friends can only dream of?
Any race longer than a marathon is technically an ultra and distances really have no upper limit, with races across continents or as far as your imagination will allow. For a regular runner who has run at least a half marathon, the step up to a 50k (31.1 miles) is not much different to running a marathon. The main difference is that ultras are often trail races, so a 50k can take significantly longer to finish than a marathon due to the terrain.
When moving up to ultras, several key training concepts should be borne in mind:
- It’s best to start with shorter and easier ultra courses to gradually immerse yourself into ultras.
- The traditional long run may need to be slightly longer, but not much more than for a marathon – perhaps just a few extra miles.
- Back-to-back days of long runs are extremely helpful in building up endurance and are easier on the body than trying to do extremely long training runs.
- More mileage is generally needed for ultra training than for a half or full marathon, but not as much as you think, and a gradual build up of mileage is best. It’s more the types of runs that change, with more running in the conditions and terrain of your goal race.
- Time on your feet is a more useful concept than measuring miles when training on the trails as you’re likely to run slower.
- However, quality speed-work is still important, not just running as much as you possibly can at a slow pace.
The ultra community is very friendly and open, no matter where you go in the world, so don’t be put off from trying a race. Most events are small and relaxed and once you try one, you’ll be hooked. In no time you’ll feel the call of longer and harder races as you look for your next challenge.
Beginner’s Guide to Ultrarunning
- Part 1: How to Move Up In Distance (HERE)
- Part 2: Nutrition and Hydration (HERE)
- Part 3: Injury Prevention (HERE)
- Part 4: Race preparation (HERE)