Training for an ultramarthon can be as challenging and as rewarding an experience as completing one. Training for an ultramarathon isn’t rocket science, but there’s plenty to learn to make the process easier and more rewarding. On the other hand, there’s no single best way to train for an ultramarthon… and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is likely trying to sell you something. With that in mind, some of the approaches explored in this article will be inconsistent with, and possibly contradictory, to one another. In my mind, that’s not only acceptable, but almost mandatory in discussing ultramarathon training. One of the many positive aspects of ultramarathon training is that there are many approaches to getting to the finish line and you get to find the one, or the multitude, that work for you.
What follows is a general outline of many aspects of training for an ultramarathon. With thousands of articles on iRunFar and many dozens of those focused on various aspects of ultramarathon training, this article heavily relies on them as more in-depth resources and jumping-off points.
[Author’s Note: If you find this article useful, might I suggest sharing it on social media or with any friend who’s getting into or considering getting into ultramarathons. Likewise, feel free to link to it if you have a website or blog. While it’s a bit long for a single sitting, it’s my hope that this article provides many of the tools one needs to get ready to run an ultramarathon.]
Admittedly, this is a very long article, so you might want to jump ahead to various sections:
- Overviews and Overarching Principles
- Ultrarunning Goals and Motivation
- Types of Training Runs
- Volume and Intensity
- Long Runs and Endurance Training
- Peaking and Tapering
- Mental Training
- Cross Training and Weight Lifting
- Continuing Education
Ultramarathon Training: Overviews and Overarching Principles
The current incarnation of iRunFar started more than a decade ago with the article How to Train for an Ultramarathon. It remains a concise overview of primary ultramarathon training topics, such as long runs, back-to-back long runs, training volume, specificity of training, speedwork, and non-running aspects of training. We’ll touch on many of these points in this article, but that initial article remains a good one-stop resource, especially if you have some running experience.
Ian Torrence’s article A Newbie’s Guide to Ultramarathons does a good job of looking at how initial forays into ultramarathon training and racing may differ for newer runners versus experienced marathoners. It explains that experienced marathoners may be able to include more training volume and back-to-back long runs, while respecting the necessary recovery learned in previous training. On the other hand, those new to running should be more cautious and conservative in their training. When done right, consistent training for 4-6 hours per week for 3+ months can lead to a successful first 50k, which is the distance Torrence suggests for a first ultra effort for those new to running. Given the similarities between some marathons and 50ks, experienced marathoners might reasonably jump straight into a 50-mile race for their first ultra.
While it’s tempting to look at ultramarathon training in a vacuum, it’s important to look at one’s training and life holistically, as nothing happens in said vacuum. Stresses from training and work and family and so many other aspects of our lives tax both our bodies and our minds. To go full-on ahead with training when you’re at wit’s end with the rest of your life is foolhardy. Stephanie Violett’s written two great articles on this concept. In Stress and Running, she lays out the basics of balancing stress and recovery and how life outside of training plays into that equation for runners. In Balance and Running: Living a Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle, she addresses how overcommitting to running at the expense of other aspects our lives is detrimental… especially when we’re forced to take a break from running.
One way to reconfigure the balance between your ultramarathon training and the rest of your life (and the stresses that the combination of the two can entail) is to constrain your training. As discussed more in-depth below, while training volume is beneficial in preparing for an ultramarathon, plenty of people live extremely busy lives and still manage to run ultramarathons (and may be better, happier people for doing so) on quite reasonable amounts of training. In Ultrarunning Training for Busy People, Joe Uhan describes how to work backward by identifying the most important aspects of your training and building from those. For someone training for a mountainous ultramarathon, those elements might include long runs, climbing and descending, including some terrain and environmental rehearsals (Will the race be particularly hot or cold? Is it likely to rain or snow or be muddy? Will it include night running?), and running at what’s likely to be your race pace. Joe also outlines non-specific tools a busy runner might employ to get the most out of her or his limited time.
No matter the time scale in question, patience is a virtue in ultrarunning. Not only is it a key aspect to consider in running a well-measured race (or enjoyable adventure), but it’s important to keep in mind in any given week, over the course of a training season and, if possible, from season to season. On the shorter end of things, I wrote Pursuing the Patient Path to help myself and others catch the sort of thinking that can find us doing too much, too soon… or just too much in our short-term training. Even with more than a quarter century of running under my belt, I’m still susceptible to the siren song of these thoughts. Ian Torrence takes a look at patience on a longer scale in Patience and the Ultrarunner in which he calls attention to timeframe, preaches about practicing self-restraint, discusses the value of developing steadfastness outside of running, and explains the importance of consistency in training. Indeed, consistency on both the single-season and long-term timescales plays a tremendous role in ultramarathon success.
Ultrarunning Goals and Motivation
Before moving onto the mechanics of preparing to do an ultramarathon, it’s important to pause and consider what your ultraunning goals and motivations are, both in the short and long terms. How you approach training for an ultramarathon will be vastly different if you’re a relatively new runner hoping to finish one 50k before moving on, if you’re someone looking to build up to years of adventurous wilderness runs, or if you’re an experienced runner looking to maximize your competitive potential at 50 or 100 miles a few years down the road.
Similarly, ask yourself if you’re motivated by competition, suffering, fun, group outings, new experiences, or something else. Do you prefer challenging yourself up that next hill or would you rather dial in your efforts precisely on a track?
You may also want to take a look at your running needs and motivations on a more esoteric level as promoted by Joe Uhan in his article The Two Questions: Needs and Motivations Affecting Running Health and Success in which he asks “What are you running away from?” and “What are you running toward?”
Use your own goals and motivations to tailor your training. Sure, some folks get into ultrarunning to find the true limits of their suffering and performance… but I’m guessing that, ultimately, that’s not the case for most of us, at least not on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. On the other hand, if you find a way to enjoy or even to love most of your running, you’ll be able to train to finish an ultramarathon and even reach much of your potential without ever incorporating an element of training you hate. That’s not to say specific training that addresses your weakness can’t have profound gains–like training to improve your uphill walking, downhill running, or skills on technical trails, but, rather, to suggest that you absolutely don’t need to do X or Y workout to find fun and success in ultrarunning. Most fundamentally, if you find the fun, the success will follow!
If you’ve been ultrarunning for a while and find your motivation for either training or racing, Ian Torrence suggests you Try Something New in the form of some faster racing whether on the trails or *gasp* on the roads.
Ultramarathon Training: Types of Training Runs
In approaching your training, it can be helpful to think of the Essential Elements of Successful Ultramarathon Training. The most common element of ultramarathon training is endurance-based runs, which are long runs over 90 minutes in duration, easy runs that maintain aerobic fitness, and recovery runs. You might also include stamina-based workouts in which you attempt to go further at a given pace or effort to develop strength for later in ultramarathons. There’s also speed training in which you increase your maximum aerobic capacity while improving running economy (the physical efficiency with which your effort translates into forward motion). Some folks also add running-specific strengthening exercises and cross training to compliment their running-based training. While you needn’t incorporate all of these elements into your training, each one has benefits.
Ultramarathon Training: Volume and Intensity
Up to a point, overall training volume may be the most important aspect of preparing for an ultramarathon. Can someone finish an ultramarathon on very little training? You bet! And that’s even more so the case the longer a runner’s general running history as well as the greater her or his ultramarathon experience. That said, there’s a strong positive correlation between training volume and ultramarathon success, whether that’s measured in finishing, enjoyment, time, place or something else.
In his article Ultramarathon Training Volume, Ian Torrence does a great job of laying out the multitude of benefits that come with training volume, how to safely increase your weekly volume by no more than 10-15% in any week, how to safely increase your maximum volume, and how you might know that you’re at your training-volume ceiling. In that article, Torrence also explains why adding other elements of ultramarathon training may follow finding your volume ceiling. Initially, much of this training should be of the endurance training sort described in the next section. Some of this volume might come in the form of Two-a-Days, a.k.a. doubles. Running twice in one day can be one strategy for increasing your training volume.
So, before getting into the various types of individual training runs, it’s worth taking a look at how you determine whether or not you’re running too fast or too slow on a given day. How to do so has been a topic of debate within the ultrarunning community and even on iRunFar itself with two main camps, one promoting perceived effort and one in favor of heart-rate-based training. At least informally, I’ve used both and suggest that neither method is “the one” and that you should follow your personal preference, perhaps after a bit of experimentation. Heart-rate monitoring can be great for the analytical sorts as well as those who strongly trend toward pushing themselves too hard and, therefore, can benefit from a numeric cap on their effort on a given day. On the other side, perceived effort is an effective method if you’re strongly in tune with your body (and will listen to it!) or run to get away from technology and data and all that. Paced-based training might work as a rough guide on the track or flat roads, but it’s of little use on many trails or in hilly-to-mountainous terrain. Another alternative is to just run. Seriously. I’d guess this is the route most runners take–myself included–and it can get you plenty fit to run an ultra. There’s still always an underlying smidge of perceived effort here (you’ve got to be running easy enough to finish your long run), but not in the way a coach might apply it to workouts.
Here are some great articles that look at how you might look at your running intensity:
- Ian Torrence’s Worth the Effort is a great primer on using effort as your guide.
- Joe Uhan, iRunFar’s heart-rate training champion, lays out his approach in An Inconvenient Truth: Why Heart Rate Always Matters and Listen to Your Heart: Tips for Navigating Heart-Rate Training, which includes his thoughts on the downsides of perceived-effort-based training.
While Uhan tends toward the analytical in measuring daily runs, he advocates for process-based training that focuses on subjective, qualitative goals rather than “how much or how fast.” His first article on the subject discusses how to set process-based goals in training and racing, while his second article describes how to apply that process approach to training.
Ultramarathon Training: Long Runs and Endurance Training
Endurance-based workouts are the foundation of ultrarunning. In fact, it’s probably easiest to think of most of these efforts simply as “runs,” rather than “workouts.” “Endurance-based” is an alternate to “speedwork,” and includes easy runs, recovery runs, and long runs. “Easy runs” are ultrarunners most frequent runs and are runs of up to around 90 minutes at an easy effort. You might mix in even shorter (20-45 minutes), even easier effort “recovery runs” to aid in recovery as the run following a taxing long run or speedwork session. Ian Torrence does a great job of describing various sorts of endurance-based workouts, including the above and to-be-discussed long runs, in an article by the same.
Most long runs will be of the sort Torrence calls “steady state” long runs, which are easy-effort runs up to many hours in length. His article suggests how long those runs might be based on a multitude of factors. In general, you’ll aim to build the length (whether measured by distance or time) over the course of a training season, adding to the length in small increments every few weeks.
As part of this step-up process in preparation for longer ultramarathons, many ultrarunners will jump into shorter ultramarathons as supported (i.e., with supplied food and drink as well as other support along the route) long runs. For instance, it’s not uncommon for an ultrarunner who’s running a 100-mile race in June to run a 50k in March and a 50 miler (or two) in April or May. Similarly, someone preparing for a 50-mile race might run one or two 50ks between one and three months before their race. Care must be taken not to run these tune-up races at 100% effort such that they take much more than a week to fully recover from. Torrence lays out plenty of details on how to use races as training runs in Using Races to Prepare for Your Goal Event.
As one gains experience in ultrarunning, he or she might add in carbohydrate-depleting and fast-finish long runs. The former are run in a fasted state without refueling along the way to prepare the body and mind for pressing on when the body’s carbohydrate stores run low. Fast-finish long runs are long runs where the final 2-10 miles are run hard, around one’s marathon race pace. These can be built into your training schedule or, if you’re lucky, you might spontaneously roll into them on days where you feel great late in your long run. Again, both these types of long runs are described in detail in Ian Torrence’s article Effort-Based Workouts.
Some in the ultrarunning community recommend back-to-backs, that is running long runs on back-to-back days, as Torrence does. That advice frequently includes the caveat that back-to-backs should used infrequently (no more than every three-to-four weeks) and be built up to over time, especially for those with limited high mileage experience. Personally, I’ve come to use back-to-backs less frequently over time, not wanting to take on the small increase in injury or fatigue risk that might come from such runs, unless the back-to-back is merely auxiliary to a multi-day adventure. However, there is a convenience factor for those working a standard work week who want to get in two long runs in a week over the weekend.
Running with others can be a huge boost to your running. The camaraderie is a psychological lift in and of itself, while the company can add an element of play to your long runs. Check out Ian Torrence’s Group Workouts piece for some fun endurance-based workouts you can try out with your friends
Ultramarathon Training: Speedwork
Speedwork can be an invaluable addition to your ultramarathon training. At the same time, it’s not an absolutely necessity either. Really. While there are great gains to be had in running efficiency, endurance performance, and strength… and some of those gains relatively easily attained, you can also finish ultramarathons (and finish them well) without a lick of time and effort devoted to speedwork. Smart and steady incorporation of speedwork can be done safely (and I’d speculatively posit reduce some injury risk in trail ultrarunners), but the reckless or over inclusion of speedwork can quickly lead to injury and burnout. The remainder of this section presupposes that you’re interested in earning the additional gains that are to be had from speedwork in its various forms and that you’re prepared to do so in a reasonable manner.
Below are the types of speedwork for which Ian Torrence has laid out the both mechanics and benefits of in his Your Ultra Training Bag of Tricks series:
- Stamina-based workouts. Use steady-state runs, tempo runs, tempo intervals, and progression runs to improve your lactate threshold as well as learn to run by effort. Ian later went on to dedicate an entire article on how to run various progression workouts on trails.
- Speed-based workouts. VO2max intervals can be employed for their wide range of benefits.
- Sprint and hill-based workouts. Check out the wide variety of workouts Ian describes in this piece from flat and very fast repeats to uphill and downhill workouts of all sorts of lengths.
You can also combine some of these workouts together for a mix of training stimuli as well as a literal and figurative change of pace with gear-changing workouts, as described by Ian Torrence.
Whether you’re new to speedwork or decades into it, running with others can provide a great boost to your workouts. This can be as simple and straightforward as joining a group for a workout on the track or an evening tempo run, whether or not you’re working out at the same pace as the others. Camaraderie is a powerful tool. You can also have a bit of extra fun with specific group workouts, such as the head-start workout (i.e., the chase), adventure runs, surprise surge workouts, and bagel runs.
Ultramarathon Training: Recovery
Adequate recovery is just as important to successful ultramarathon training as building up volume, getting in those long runs, and, for some, adding in speedwork. However, it’s all too frequent that recovery is overlooked in favor of adding to the more visible counting numbers and progressive improvement we can see in and from the more engaged aspects of training. Don’t fall into this trap. Recovery is a requirement on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis, although we’ll leave that last timeframe to the Offseason section below.
On the shortest timeframe, we need to recover from our previous run(s) to find success on our future runs. That’s most commonly done by taking one or more easier days between harder and longer days. Think of this as pulsing on and off with your training. Indeed, those easier efforts or any “active recovery,” whether in the form of easy runs, spins on the bike, swims, or even hikes, can actually help us recover from the harder ones. Some folks will go so far as to add in a short, easy second run in the evening after a harder morning effort or the morning after a harder evening effort as part of a double to speed up recovery.
Of course, there’s one very easy path to recovery… one so easy, you could sleep through it. Yes, sleep is a one heck of an effective recovery method. Ian Torrence outlines sleep’s many benefits in Sleep: The Missing Ingredient, while Ian Dunican and John Caldwell provide a thorough primer on all aspects of sleep and running in Sleep and Running Performance.
Zooming out, I’d highly recommend checking out Ian’s Recovery article, which talks of myriad ways to enhance your recovery–including active recovery and sleep which have already been touched on, as well as nutrition, hydration, self-massage, icing, heat, yoga and stretching, supplements, and strengthening–as well as how to implement a recovery regime in your training. Yeah, it’s all in there! While much more specific in origin, Stephanie Violett’s article Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery provides another look at the tools available to aid in recovery, with a closer focus on muscle recovery.
In Rest and Recovery, Geoff Roes does a good job of reminding us of how we tend to be bad at rest and recovery and why we should change that. In addition, he suggests when we should and shouldn’t listen to our bodies with regard to recovery, with the gist being that we should listen to our body for signs that we need more recovery, not that we are fully recovered. He also suggests checking out one’s heart rate and, specifically, heart-rate variability to monitor recovery.
One of the most frequent training questions asked in the ultrarunning world is “how long do I need to recover after an ultra?” This question pops up whether it’s addressing a training race or a focus race. For this, I’ll first direct you to two excellent articles on the topic: Ian Torrence’s Post-Ultra Downtime: How Much is Enough? and Joe Uhan’s Recover Better: 10 Rules for Optimal Ultramarathon Recovery. In How Much is Enough, Torrence does a great job of laying out the calculus that informs how much recovery time we should take after an ultra before reinforcing the idea that there is no hard and fast rule for how much recovery is adequate for any given person after any specific race. If Ian gave the “how long” answer, then Joe gives the “how to” answer as he lays out 10 rules for optimizing your post-ultra recovery. I do my part to chime in on post-ultra recovery in Returning to Normal: Getting Back on Track after a Focus Ultra. While some suggestions overlap with Uhan’s, I also discuss filling the void that opens up with a sudden, drastic reduction in training and commitment to it.
As mentioned in the intro to this section, an offseason is important part of many ultrarunners’ training. For a quick look into this, check out my piece On Taking a Break or jump below to the Offseason section. For even more about the when, why, and how of an offseason, check out our comprehensive offseason roundup.
Ultramarathon Training: Specificity
Beyond “just running,” in the sense of training volume and long runs (and adequate recovery), the first suggestion I’d make to anyone training for an ultramarathon would be to add in training specificity as it relates to your goal event. That can mean preparing for outside-your-normal climbing, descending, flatness, heat, cold, altitude, and more. Another way of looking at this is to “prepare for your race-day weakness” as Ian Torrence describes the concept.
In Race-Specific Training: The Biggest Bang for Your Buck, Torrence describes how to tailor your training for flat, mountainous, and “colossal” races. Many of us are drawn from time to time to a race or adventure in the mountains, where we’ll climb… and descend far more than usual. Enhancing your climbing ability is pretty obvious and straightforward, in that you can practice climbing similar grades to those you’ll encounter on race day, even if you have to get creative and repeatedly climb stairwells, a short hill, or a highway overpass. Generally, being under prepared for climbing just means climbing slower. On the other hand, it’s easier to underestimate the possibly debilitating effects of being under prepared for descending. “Blown quads” or “dead quads” are a frequent and significant-enough occurrence in ultrarunning to warrant no less than three articles dedicated entirely to the subject on iRunFar:
- Andy Jones-Wilkins’s Avoiding Quadraphenia, which lays out training, techniques, and tactics to avoid blown quads on race day;
- Ian Torrence’s Don’t Let Downhills Be Your Downfall, which suggests getting onto the race course if possible, but, otherwise, how to train on what’s available, as well as how to use strength work, uphill work, and good downhill running form; and
- Joe Uhan’s Protect and Preserve: Quadriceps Training and Race Preparation, which provides form-focused tips for preserving your quads.
There are limitations to how one can train specifically to race at high altitude, but in Altitude Training and Racing Ian Torrence talks about what you can expect to encounter on a trip from low to high altitude and what adjustments you can make in response. One way you can train is by running some VO2 max workouts as discussed in Torrence’s Speed-Based Workouts article.
The length and style of a race may also dictate training specificity. While very similar training approaches can prepare you for ultramarathons up to 100k (62 miles), things will change drastically for almost everyone before they get to the 100-mile distance. It’s with that in mind that Joe Uhan suggests training to hike (in addition to run) and for time on your feet as well as other advice in Surviving Your First Hundred – Part 1: Preparation. Multi-stage races are an entirely different beast. Ian Torrence provides advice tailored specifically to the rigors of such races in A Guide to Your Best Multi-Stage Race Performance, Part 1: Training.
Ultramarathon Training: Peaking and Tapering
While there’s no need to race or have a pinnacle adventure or the like, many of us build toward a goal outing of some sort from time to time for which we’d like to “peak.” In order to make optimal use of earlier training, most folks will aim to “taper,” that is reduce their training volume in the days and weeks ahead of the goal outing. In The Difficult Art of Peaking, Ian Torrence discusses the difference between peaking and tapering as well as techniques to maximize your peak, some of which may seem counterintuitive. He also discusses how to peak for several sequential races.
Ultramarathon Training: Mental Training
As much as the body is integral to ultrarunning, so, too, is the mind. All too often, it’s also an area that we neglect in our preparation, instead relying on our inherent tools and approaches to varying degrees of success. Personally, I see two separate areas ripe for mental cultivation–motivation and skills–with motivation having already been covered above.
In Head Games, Ian Torrence chatted with Dr. Stan Beecham to identify common mental pitfalls in running, such as second guessing, giving up when injured, and pity parties, before going on to remind us to consider the choices we can make when things get rough. Patience is a virtue, especially in ultrarunning. I feel strongly about this, and Ian Torrence agrees in his article Patience and the Ultrarunner, in which he discusses the value of patience on multiple timeframes. This is something we can all improve on. Of course, sometimes the answer in ultrarunning is to just bear down and take what’s dealt. In Learning to Embrace the Pain, Torrence lays out a number of techniques by which we can do just that.
When it comes to the mental aspects of ultrarunning, I’d be remise not to mention Andy Jones-Wilkins’s column in which he’s frequently written on the subject for many years. Perhaps the best place to get an overview of the mental aspects AJW finds most important in ultrarunning is in his five-part Ultrarunning Skills series in which he touches on persistence, resilience, patience, courage, and, of course (if you know AJW), grit.
In writing this article, I think part of Uhan’s “What are you running from?” question mentioned in the Motivations section has started to resonate more fully with me. Maybe it’s a bit more specific, but we all have anxieties. If we can grow to know them, more easily recognize when they manifest, and develop skills for overcoming them, we can find more success in ultrarunning… and in life. Although zoomed in on the detail, I’ve written a bit about besting anxiety in running in Overcoming Anxiety: Tips for Getting out the Door.
Cross Training and Weight Lifting
Plenty of new and experienced ultrarunners repeatedly get to the finish line without any cross training or strength work or anything of that ilk. However, should you have the time or inclination, either or both can be useful in becoming a stronger ultrarunner.
Cross training can have plenty of benefits for an ultrarunner. In season, it can help one add endurance-training volume while reducing the risk of running-specific repetitive-use injuries. (Although the training load must still be looked at with regard to overarching physical and mental stress.) There may also be benefits in building more well-rounded musculature and connective tissues. In one’s offseason (discussed further below), one might switch to another primary sport for a mental recharge while maintaining overall fitness.
Strength training naturally improves… well, strength, which can increase power and resilience that can benefit performance. Stephanie Violett’s Strength Training for Runners is a good starting point for exercises you might want to include in your training, while Rhielle Widders two–part Building a Trail-Worthy Body series adds another group of broadly beneficial exercises.
Of course, strength training can also help prevent injuries or aid in their rehabilitation. In his Stay the Course column, Joe Uhan often pens articles outlining both broadly beneficial strength work as well as exercises to help remediate specific injuries or deficiencies. Scroll through his column if you’re looking to work through an injury or become a stronger runner.
Injury avoidance, injury recognition, injury recovery, and return from injury are aspects of ultramarathon training, just like they are for any other sport. They’re also a topic–from broad concepts to specific injuries–that’s been covered in dozens of articles on iRunFar. Indeed, collecting and laying out those articles is worthy of an article in and of itself. Seriously, the article I just linked to collates many of iRunFar’s overarching instructional articles on injuries as well as some more philosophical perspectives on them. If you’re looking for something more concise, Ian Torrence’s Injury Recognition, Treatment, and Recovery is a great quick primer on, well, the three topics its title suggests. If you’re looking for advice on specific injuries, you can click on Running Injuries under Ultrarunning & Trail Running Resources in the righthand sidebar (on your computer or tablet) or browse through physical therapist Joe Uhan’s Staying the Course column.
Overtraining is an area that we’ve covered extensively–both instructively and anecdotally–on iRunFar, and for good reason. Overtraining can put a real hamper on your running, as well as the rest of your life. As discussed earlier, increasing volume and intensity has benefits. Indeed, even short-term, occasional “functional overreaching” in training can be a positive stimulus with limited risk. Joe Uhan kicked off his three-post Overtraining Syndrome series, laying out how functional overreaching differs from moderate-term non-functional overreaching and long-term overtraining syndrome (OTS). It’s worth taking a look at his chart comparing these various levels of stress as a sobering warning for what can go wrong and how long it can take to recover if you train too much. More important, take a look at the list of emotional and physical symptoms so that you can self-monitor when you might be going too deep into the well. In his initial article, Uhan goes on to look at the causes of, diagnosis of, testing for, and effects of OTS. In his two subsequent articles, Uhan covers the treatment and prevention of overtraining syndrome as well at the trail-ultrarunning specifics of overtraining syndrome.
It’s worth noting that while overtraining syndrome is easy shorthand, plenty of non-running factors and stresses go into how well our body handles our running stresses as laid out in the Overviews and Overarching Principles section above.
For those looking to carry on with ultrarunning for more than one 4-8 month season, the concept of an offseason becomes important. To start, most of us can use a short-to-prolonged physical and mental break from the rigors of training and racing. Sometimes that need for a break is more acute, while at other times it’s a useful reset for regaining a bit of spark and the joys that come from the quick initial rebuilding of fitness. The offseason can also be a time focus on strength training or rehabilitation work that’s neglected during heavier training. Other folks might take their newfound extra time and dabble in other sports like climbing or cycling or skiing or, perhaps, catch up with family and friends, take care of neglected to-do items, or just relax. Of course, the offseason is also a great time to start planning your next season of ultrarunning!
To learn more about the when, why, and how of an ultrarunning offseason, checkout our comprehensive offseason roundup.
No matter how long you’ve been running, there’s always something more to learn. In Becoming a Student of the Sport, Ian Torrence describes how we can learn from having a coach, finding a mentor, taking a class, building a library of running books, or hitting the internet.
To that, I’d add continue to be an “experiment of one,” as folks in the ultrarunning community say. I mean that in both the investigatory sense and the exploratory sense. What works for you for one race or one season or one decade, might not always work or you might find something else that works even better via experimentation. And by “work,” I mean work not only physiologically, but also psychologically. We all have different motivations… and placebos… and if it “works,” go for it. And, as for exploration, I find that exploring something, whether it’s a new race distance or terrain or even exploring the same trail by meaningfully re-running it often through the seasons can provide a real spark, and that’s something that I think we all benefit from both in training for an ultra and in life.
Call for Comments
Please feel free to ask any questions you might have about ultramarathon training!
[Author’s Note: It’s my intention to revise and expand this article on an ongoing basis as prompted by reader questions, new resources added to iRunFar, and my own pondering. I’m biased, but you can check out Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons if you’re looking for a one-stop book on ultramarathon training and racing.]