Written by Ambassador Jamie Marcellus
So, you’re training for your first ultramarathon?
First off, congratulations! You are embarking on a journey that will challenge you physically and mentally, open up new experiences, and in all likelihood give you a chance to connect with awesome people. So the big question is, where to begin?
1) Assess your current fitness and experience.
Some readers of you may be coming from years of running experience. This may include 5ks, 10ks, and even marathons. Others may have started recently. Others still may have lots of trail experience, just not ultra distance. Regardless it is important to take an honest assessment of where you are at, as this will inform (to a certain extent) your training over the coming weeks and months. Is it possible to skip to some of the longer distance ultras such as 100k or even 100miles? Sure, but it will depend on your prior experience and goals (I skipped from marathons to a timed ultra event to 100 miles, so it is possible!)
2) Decide what distance you would like to start with. 50k? 50 miles? Or even 100 miles? All are possible, but the timing and readiness will determine how much prior training you will require. For instance, if you are an experienced marathon runner, and have been training for a marathon even recently, it is fairly easy to move up to the 50k distance in a short time. The chosen course and course profile will determine how much additional or race specific training you will need, but it could be as short as a month or two after your last marathon. Contrast that with someone who has recently started running – it may take 4-6 months to build up the training required to tackle the distance.
3) Determine your why. This is probably the most important step. You need to figure out why you want to do this. This will help you stay consistent with your training as well as ensure on race day that you will get through any low or difficult patches which can occur. The why is personal. Spend time figuring this out as it will contribute greatly to your success at the ultra distances.
4) Read. There are many great books on ultra and trail running. These have detailed information including sample training plans that can assist you with your planning. There are also a ton of great blogs, video’s on youtube, and groups on social media such as Facebook. Read lots, ask questions, and enjoy the process.
5) Consider a coach. A coach can be a great addition for both new and experienced runners. They can assist with planning, provide additional motivation and guidance and contribute to accountability. There are many different types of coaches that you can find, from in-person to internet based coaching.
6) THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. Run. Take that first step. You don’t need the fancy watch, shoes or gear to get started. Go and take your first few steps. Turn that into a mile. Then miles. Over a period of time you can start to do some of the things above, or buy the special gear. The most important thing to do is to take that first step. Commit.
Congratulations on deciding to run an ultra. Ultra’s provide a great opportunity to get outside, contribute to personal growth, achievement and fitness. You will also get to meet great people, see some beautiful parts of the country and experience new things. Embrace the journey. Happy trails!
Jamie Marcellus, the author, after many years of road running, ran his first trail race, a 6hr time event in 2016, where he won, running more than 65k. In 2017 he ran is first 100 miler finishing 2nd overall. He runs most days and prefers the quiet solitude of the trail.