The Trifecta has been completed, but now you are planning on the big one.
You want to conquer the Ultra Beast!
Well here’s an article of what I feel are the things to prioritise when you are heading into these types of events in general.
If you had any key sessions during each microcycle (Week), these are the ones to prioritise. After all, you will be getting at least 30 miles in come race day. You can start your long runs as low as an hour and slowly increase your time by 5 – 10 minutes per week to be hitting somewhere between 2 and 3 hours comfortably.
Making sure to allow for recovery weeks every so often where we reduce the time on feet, to recover and adapt to the increasing training volume.
These runs should be very easy and you should aim to keep your heart rate low, in zone 2, with minimal spikes unless planned, and even so these should be kept minimal. The key to these sessions is to build your aerobic base, build your heart muscle and let your mitochondria flourish. Unfortunately, too many people get stuck in that moderate intensity rut, by hitting these runs too hard, usually in zone 3, not only is it counter-productive as you won’t fully be in an aerobic state.
You may also find that this moderate intensity will grind you down week on week and you will start to feel fatigued. A good indicator of this is if you constantly feel too tired to train, If your volume is not properly managed and your base and aerobic build is not strict, you will find this more common and your risk burning out before race day.
If you want to better manage your aerobic work and you don’t own a heart rate monitor then the best thing is to keep your pace as such that you can comfortably hold a conversation. This is a great indicator that you are in an aerobic state.
In endurance training, we need volume and time on feet, You can further add volume by adding either a secondary long run in the week or by having a longer run the day before just make sure you’re training smart and allowing a lot of recovery between them.
A lot of people I’ve coached for ultra distance events expect me to give them a 4 / 5 hour training run. Almost every time I get the question…. Er… Shouldn’t I be running longer than this?
It sounds like a good idea, but theres more than one way to skin a cat… or in this case, build volume into your training plan, and by going out and doing a stupidly long run for 4 or 5 hours, your only risking injury and pushing fatigue. You want to make it to race day right?
Save the big 5+ hour run, for the actual race! Trust me, when push comes to shove, your body will surprise you with how much further it will go… in fact, thats why these events get so addictive, as you push further and further down the rabbit hole of your bodies capabilities!
If you’re going to go out for a long 5+ hour session, then go out for a big day of hiking up some mountains, In fact, make it load bearing, that’ll give you more bang for your buck and help you embrace the suck.
Ultra events are pretty much like an eating contest. And if you can stomach your food whilst running, you’ll always have the upper hand! I’ve seen so many people fly into these events, but bonk HARD just due to their ego on nutrition.
Trust me, you have to EAT!
Find foods that work for you and experiment during your training runs. A good place to start is to eat around 70 g of carbs or around 300 Kcal per hour. This can be split across the hour in smaller chunks or in one sitting, whichever sits better with your stomach!
I tend to try and keep my fuel natural, so will have some bananas, dried fruits, nuts, home-made flapjacks. Occasionally on some events which have me running through the night like Europes Toughest Mudder, Ive used a hot electrolyte and carb mix to help warm me up, This has worked wonders. Its also a good boost for your morale!
Ensuring electrolytes are present are key to help prevent cramps, so ensure you’re topped up on these or at least have some salty food to hand, like pretzels or salted nuts! (Get your mind out the gutter)
Also make sure you have a mix of sweet and savoury foods, as if your out on course for a long time, you may get really sick of chowing on constantly sweet tastes, I know I do… Some of my athletes like eating baby food pouches, rehydrated food, pizza, even sandwiches! Anything that you can stomach and that is higher calorie, is fine!
The other thing is hydration, ensure you are constantly taking sips of water throughout the event and not waiting until you are gasping. This will also lead to cramp, so keep it in check as once you’ve got cramp, its usually really hard to get rid of!
The next is hills, no doubt about it the ultra events are usually placed in the hillier locations! So make sure you’re getting your body used to them!
If you’re going to compete, then a good place to start would be hitting some 15% incline threshold work, 5 – 10 minutes of work, hitting that comfortably hard zone. Then dropping the treadmill back down to 1% at an easy pace for you to recover… before getting that treadmill back up for the pain cave. You can build these sessions up from 30 minutes of work up to near an hour.
These sessions are hard, but theres not much better that will get you ready for hills come race day unless you are blessed to live at the foot of some mountains!
Secondary to hills, is usually carries up them! So don’t be afraid to grab your trusty bucket or sandbag and get used to hauling ass up that hill with it, although thats probably better practiced out in the open, unless you want to be chucked out the gym, or fancy bribing the PT on shift!
Your kit will make or break an ultra event. You need to be prepared for the weather, look it up during the week and get a rough idea well in advanced. IF you’re going to get wet and be submerged, do you need neoprene or merino wool? Is the climate hot? Then less is more. Is the sun out? You may be exposed to it for a long duration.
Looking this up before hand will be key to your completion.
Theres no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
Are you taking a hydration pack? Where is your food going to be stored? How often will you be at your drop box? Do you need a spare set of shoes / socks?
You need to plan for every single eventuality, and then some more on top. Most ultra distance events never go to plan, so you need to know this and make sure you have enough stuff that you can keep the plan going and not have to call it quits!
These are just some of the items I’ve used previously in ultra events which have really helped me:
Food Source of choice min 300Kcal SPARE ICE
Electrolytes, salt tabs or Mustard
*Cold Weather Essential
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Using all the above, write yourself a race plan, fuel strategy, clothing change plan. Anything that you think will help you get to the finish line. You can rarely just ‘wing’ an ultra event and it will get that ego and rip it out your head if you’re not lucky!
Crap at fuelling regularly? Set an alarm or a goal of a time interval / mile marker.
What are you going to do the day before the event? What are you going to do the morning of the event? What are you going to do once you’ve finished the event?
What will you do if you get too cold? What will you do if you get cramp? What will you do if you shoes break – Trust me this happens!
Plan every single eventuality, think above it. Write it down, memorise it. Have it with you if needed.
Just have a F’in plan! Or the gods will chew you up and spit you out a humble lesson!
If you’d like any further advice, then feel free to contact me. I love training people for endurance events and seeing them push just a little further!
Jake is an online coach who specialises in Endurance and OCR events.