Training For Your First Ultramarathon

Training for your First Ultramarathon


Ultrarunners all agree on one thing: their races are not for the weak! Ultramarathons are a completely different level of challenge that most runners never even consider tackling. If you have successfully completed several standard marathons, and are looking to upgrade to an ultra event, then you are in the right place. This post will go into the basics about ultrarunning, as well as help you prepare for your first ultramarathon.


What is an Ultramarathon?

The strict definition of an ultramarathon, or just ‘ultra’ as they’ve come to be called, is any race that measures farther than the standard 42.2km marathon distance. That means a race that goes a distance of 50km, 100km, 100 miles, or any other distance longer than 42.2km will qualify to be called an ultramarathon.

When deciding on your first ultra, it will be important to select a distance that you will be comfortable with. Most people that can comfortably run a standard marathon will be able to increase to a 50km event with little additional training. If you choose an event that is 100km or longer, you’re really looking at a whole different approach to what you’ll be asking your body to do.

Most ultras are trail races. You’ll be able to find some road races that offer ultra distances, but the majority of the events will take place off-road.


Selecting or Writing a Training Plan

Because of the huge variance in distance and terrain, of course, there is no one-size-fits-all training plan for ultramarathons. When creating your training plan, or searching for a training plan online, make sure you keep the following considerations in mind:

  Give Yourself Enough Time: If you regularly run standard marathons and are moving to a 50km ultra, the time you need to train will be significantly different than someone jumping in to their first 100km event. If you are closer to the latter, you will need at least five to six months to train.

  Cover the mileage: You’ll need to select a plan that will get you to the right distance on your weekend long runs. That distance is not the same as your chosen race distance! If you are training for a 100km event, your training plan may never get higher than 50km for the weekend long runs. The idea is to train your body for the big event, not to replicate the big event before you even get there.

  Choose a schedule that is sustainable: All ultramarathon training plans will have one thing in common – the weekend long run. But the plan has to have several other shorter and harder runs in it during the week, as well as cross training and strength training activities. The plan you choose will need to have a schedule that you will be able to stick to for the long haul. Weekend long runs need to be a priority, as well as all of the other events on the plan. Keep an eye on how many days a week you’ll need to be training, as well as an estimate for the total miles or hours of training time that you think you’ll need to invest.


Gear Considerations

Most ultra races will have supported aid stations along the way. On a standard marathon, runners can show up empty handed and rely on the aid stations to get them through the course. In an ultra race, there could be dozens of kilometers between aid stations. Many ultrarunners pack their gear assuming they are on their own for the entire distance. Aid stations are used as a backup, or a specifically planned point to refill their water or load up on other essentials. Be sure to research the level of support your chosen event will have.

These items are things you’ll need to have handy:

Nutrition – gels, hydration capsules, and energy chews are all good to have with you. You’ll also want to either have with you or have a plan to get to more substantial nutrition like granola bars, bananas, and other high-energy treats. Again, make sure you research the on-route support that will be provided by the race, and plan your own gear choices accordingly.

Hydration System – you will need to run with a self-supported hydration system. This can come in the form of a backpack that has a bladder you can drink from through a straw, a vest that holds large water bottles in the front, or handheld water bottles that you can carry comfortably while running. Whichever system you decide to use, remember to also use it on every single one of your weekend long runs while you are training. If you try to break out a new vest on race day, you’ll be in for a world of chafing!

Apparel – because you’ll be out on the course for a very long time, you’ll want to ensure you’ve got additional clothing. This is especially important if there is a chance that the temperature could change dramatically over the course of the day (or days!). A light raincoat can be surprisingly warm, while also can be collapsed down to fit in a pocket with some models.

Poles – Depending on the terrain, you may want to consider buying poles or walking sticks. These can be clunky to run with, so take a look at some of the collapsible models that can attach to your running belt when not in use.

Emergency Items – If your race will take you on a trail through remote areas, make sure you have things like a flashlight, a whistle, and an emergency blanket. Also, have a plan to check in with someone by cell phone every 10km or so, if the course is not very crowded. Better safe than sorry!



The entire concept of an ultramarathon may seem crazy to your friends and family, but the fact that you’re considering one means that you already know how great an accomplishment it will be to achieve a new goal and rise to a new challenge. Be sure to select a race that you’ll be excited about and will keep you motivated to train hard. And remember – have fun!