Ultra Marathon Training

How This Ultra Marathon Training Guide Differs

First and foremost, the clue is in the title. Ultra marathon training - We merely mean jogging, shuffling or trotting!

Jogging to me implies an unstructured approach to getting sweaty, generally in the endeavor to maintain ones weight or physical wellbeing, or in the world of the politicians and stars to gain publicity and draw public favour.

Joggers generally use a watch as a means of satisfying themselves that they have run far enough, and use a (polar)heart rate monitor to ensure they are in the ‘fat burning zone’ and help calculate their calorific expenditure, i.e. predicted weight loss.

Typically I would expect people who fall into this category to stick to the often recommended ‘healthy’ balance of running between 20-30 minutes, up to 5 times per week.

Ultra marathon training programs don't need to be ultra time-consuming. Take a look at these 9 best tips that build the framework of your training.
By definition ultra marathon training programs cover the same aspects of running as any running program, from sprinter to marathon runner, just in different proportions.

They in fact draw analogy with training programs for any endurance sports, including swimming and cycling. Some aspects include:

  • Technique training
  • Conditioning and endurance
  • Flexibility and stretching
  • Core and limb stability training

Many of these components are often forgotten in marathon training programs with the focus on endurance rather than efficiency. Imagine an Olympic sprinter springing out of the blocks, then shuffling down the lane round shouldered, stiff legged and duck footed. Not an image that springs to mind.

And how many sprinting spikes have you seen with pronation control?

Completely different sport you say?

Then it’s an interesting fact that a sprinter with his arms and legs pumping has a leg cadence only around 9-10% greater than a marathon runner! The main difference between these sports is only the stride length.

The next time you are watching marathon runners on television, count the stride frequency of the front group. I can guarantee all runners will have a single leg cadence of about 90 +/- strides per minute.

This isn’t a coincidence.

It is practiced at all speeds and intensities during training. Naturally an average runner would be doing well to get a leg turnover of 85 strides per minute.


And what’s your cadence?

Sprinters, middle distance runners and elite marathon runners spend a lot of time optimising stride length, frequency and balance during their running training.

The results are then embedded into the memory of their muscles during those workouts.

We as ultra runners should be no different and aim for a cadence of 86-90 strides per minute.

In other sports too, such as cycling, the success and publicity received by Lance Armstrong has in recent years revolutionised cycling technique training. He emphasises on cycling at high cadence and focuses strongly on bike positioning to improve efficiency and minimise wind resistance.

Similarly in swimming the Australians have revolutionised swimming technique and it’s associated training methods.

Over the course of an ultra marathon where fatigue and repetitive strain form an increased factor, an ultrarunner must develop a robustness and efficiency in his/her ultra marathon training. This can only be achieved with a balanced ultra running training program covering the most important aspects of the sport. Take a look at these training program.

Find out...

  • Why interval training is the ideal training to build speed endurance
  • Why plyometrics and strength training part Ipart II, and part IIIare such important exercises
  • Why the regular use of a bike trainer is powerful and complementary to your running training
  • When altitude training makes sense
  • How to prevent yourself from overtraining
  • Which other exercise routines form a balanced ultra running training program
  • How winter running differs from running during the warmer months of the year
  • which other sports are beneficial to your ultra marathon training

The main difference to other running training programs, including most (ultra) marathon training programs, is that they tend to pay little attention to nutrition.

Most of those running training programs are geared to spinning out the body’s available 2000 kCals or so of glycogen stores as far as possible in order to avoid hitting the dreaded ‘wall’.

Here ultra marathon training, similar to cycling and long distance Ironman triathlon training programs, accepts that these stores will not be sufficient to complete an ultra marathon or ultra marathon stage race.

Therefore I've dedicated many pages emphasising on nutrition suggesting how to integrate an appropriate intake of energy, both in training and races in order to avoid the cummulative depletion of the body’s available glycogen energy.

Another difference is that ultra marathon running training should not generally use the principle of over-distancing running sessions for obvious physical and practical reasons.

Indeed, ultra marathon training programs that promote this philosophy are also flawed and outdated. In preference to over-distancing I would encourage the use of cross-training similar to our triathlete friends.

Making use of indoor rowing, cycling and especially nordic walking in combination with running is ideal and complements your ultra marathon training.

The latter is an extremely effective alternative to ultra running, which, although growing in popularity is still under-utlilised by athletes (especially by joggers!).

Note: Nordic walking is a sport in itself and a pair of sticks doesn’t make a nordic walker. The appropriate technique here also must be practiced and employed in order to maximise the benefits.

Anyone who has followed an ultra marathon training program or has the ability to organise their life to follow a structured, periodised training regime has the potential to follow a training plan for ultra marathon running and ultra marathon stage races.

Due to the varied nature of ultra running, the athlete is encouraged to understand the principles of the training and be able to tailor the proportions of the different aspects to suite the goal races.

Some points to consider are terrain, climate, number of stages, maximum stage length, and whether the race rules call for self-sufficiency.

It also needs to be considered if race nutrition is provided or can be provided through outside assistance.


Return from Ultra MarathonTraining to Ultra Running Insights Home Page