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Training for ultra runs? – Part 1

Ultra running

How to train towards ultra runs in a busy daily life?

First I want to raise some questions you should think about and relate them to you own situation, before I move on with some basic advice based on my own, and also other experienced ultra runners’experience:

  • Do you have to run a lot to be able to perform an ultra run?
  • Do you need to run just as long in your training sessions as in the race itself?
  • What if you get extraordinary busy at work, settling down with a family or gets into other situations where the training needs to be prioritised lower than before?
  • If so, what kind of training should you then prioritise, and how to get sufficient time for it?

A safe type of ultra race

Let’s have a look at the first question above. The answer is that you don’t have to run a lot to perform an ultra run. This of course depends on what kind of race it is, and how far you are going to run. Some ultra races are based on hours, e.g. 6 hour runs, 12 hour runs etc. These races are good entrances to the world of ultra running, because everybody will get a result, no matter how far you actually run. If you for example run the distance of a marathon (or even shorter) during a race that last 6 hours, you have actually completed an ultra run. To achieve this does not require enormous amounts of training. You can even stop before the final stop signal, because everybody will get a result, which will be the distance you actually achieved during the available time. Further, the good thing about hourly based races, is that most of these races, being 6 hours, 12 hours or 24 hours, are held on tracks where each round is relatively short, normally between 400 – 2000 meters. This means a short distance all the time during the race to food, drink and other support you may need.

In ultra races in terrain where the run is based on self support, this is very different. There you may risk to run totally alone for many hours. If your training basis then is low, this may become a very uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. If you are uncertain if you can complete an ultra run like this, it is a better and more certain choice to participate in an hourly based race, than trying to complete a 100 miles / 160 km race. Hourly based races may become somewhat monotonous, but it is still a safer way to run and complete an ultra race if you are a beginner and/or have a weak training basis.

The key is continuity

Different opinions exist on how long training sessions should be. However, it is acknowledged by most experience ultra runners that training sessions don’t need to be as long as the race distances. Some even claim that all sessions lasting more than 3 hours are waste of time and effort, independent of how long the races are. Others claim that you should get close to the race distance in some of your training sessions. I am personally of the opinion that a combination of these two views should be applied. My longest session, which I perform minimum twice per month, is around 50 km. However, the most important factor is continuity. If you avoid injuries and perform training steadily over a period of time, progress will come by itself. But life is not static, things happen all the time, which can make it difficult to maintain the continuity. If so, don’t worry. Then you shoulod prioritise the sessions with the long runs, and make sure the speed is not too fast. Walk the uphills and have focus on the hours you plan to spend and not on the distance or the speed. Also, bring enough nutrition and fluid with you, and take your time to eat and drink sufficiently. Enjoy the trip and the running, and if you can, go together with others. It is actually easier to keep the speed down if you are several together.

The golden half hour

One way of squeezing in some training in a hectic daily life, is to run to and from work. Of course, this is not possible for everybody, but for many it will not take much longer time than driving car or using public transport.
This depends on the distance, on traffic, if the way is safe enough etc. For those with a possibility to do it, be smart and have a look at it. Each session does not need to be long. The important thing is to “collect kilometers” during the week, and to do this steadily over time. The long runs are important, as mentioned earlier, but if the choice is between a short session or no training at all that day, well, then the choice should be easy. The amount of kilometers you collect this way may be worth their weight in gold when you are standing on the starting point of a race. However, most important of all: These kilometers are really of a high value when it comes to dealing with the busy everydays. They represent important “self-time” for yourself, where energy and creative thoughts are being built. Collect kilometers as they were gold – everything is better than nothing.

To be continued…

Author: Gjermund Sørstad

Read more about ultra running here:

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