2023 UESCA Ultrarunning Coach Conference: The Science Behind Ultrarunning

Molly Schmelzle and Kelly Lange share their experience at the 2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference.

By and on March 26, 2024 | Comments

Science-driven. Professionally-minded. Community-oriented. Endurance-focused.

If we had to summarize our experience at the inaugural United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s (UESCA) Ultrarunning Coach Conference held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in September of 2023, the above four descriptors carry tremendous weight. It was a long weekend filled with inspiration and the dissemination of expert scientific knowledge about our niche, but growing, sport of ultrarunning. The conference was a mountain-top call to the leaders in ultrarunning to invest in themselves as knowledgeable professionals and to create a sound network that athletes can rely upon and trust.

The line-up of presenters represented a holistic spectrum of 11 top coaches and experts in the burgeoning ultrarunning world and shared their knowledge with 87 conference participants made up of coaches and athletes. With presentations covering topics ranging from nutrition to altitude acclimation, the conference covered a wide spectrum of the science behind the sport of ultrarunning, and we, Kelly Lange and Molly Schmelzle, were there to absorb as much knowledge as we could and report back with our learnings.

Author Perspectives

As background, the authors of this article, Kelly and Molly, embody two different slices of the running scene. Molly is a competitive athlete and runner who has found success in regional trail races, and who enjoys running 60-to-70-mile weeks in addition to strength training, cycling, and swimming. Movement is Molly’s raison d‘etre. She would love to spend her days in the halls of academia and in a quirky exercise science lab, but also finds field biology wildly appealing. Molly is also a strength and running coach who enjoys deep-dive science when talking about movement and running.

Kelly is a consistent and one-speed trail runner who gets out three to four times a week, with a bit of Peloton and strength work thrown in, and always finds a way to get the job done in balance with a very full extracurricular life. She is a clinician with more than 20 years of evidence-based experience that is inspired both by scholarship and anecdotal evidence.

This is a story of our experience and a summary of the knowledge that we walked away from the weekend with.

2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference - authors Kelly Lange and Molly Schmelzle with organizers

At the 2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference (l-to-r) are article author Kelly Lange, conference organizer Jason Koop, conference organizer Rick Prince, and article author Molly Schmelzle. Photo: Tony Hill

A Weekend of Education and Networking

The conference was well-organized with a well-thought-out schedule that balanced lecture-style presentations with interactive panel discussions. An integral part of the weekend was the intentional networking events, which allowed time for attendees to connect and ask the presenters more questions.

Jason Koop, the head coach for CTS — Ultrarunning and principal of UESCA, handpicked the presenters and brought to the stage his research and experience as one the top coaches in the sport. Koop is well known in the ultrarunning coaching world, hits the mark with his science-based acumen, and is a leading example of a full-time coach. When asked what his goal was for the conference, Koop stated his desire to raise the professionalism of coaching in this sport and to have more people who coach as a full-time job.

And one of the best ways to do that is education.

2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference - participants

The participants of the 2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference. Photo: Tony Hill

Ultrarunning Nutrition with Stephanie Howe, Ph.D.

Stephanie Howe, Ph.D. started the formal presentations speaking about ultrarunning nutrition. An accomplished ultrarunner, nutritionist, and exercise physiologist, Howe has a remarkable ability to synthesize science into palatable, bite-sized chunks. She is passionate about runners creating a healthy relationship with food on and off the course. The thrust of her lecture was to teach coaches and runners alike to keep a nutrition plan simple and to focus on food. Social media and fad marketing contribute many theories to nutrition in sports, but she encouraged “shutting down the background noise and letting the science be a little louder.” She provided a lot of good one-liners, such as, “Bring it back to food,” “Don’t be distracted by the hacks,” and “We don’t eat numbers, we eat food.”

To make a good nutrition plan, it’s important to know the why of nutrition. Ultrarunning athletes put their bodies through intense bouts of exercise, largely in terms of volume, requiring huge amounts of energy for all of the moving muscles. After four hours of running, muscle glycogen is exhausted, thus the constant demand for blood glucose — if you’re not taking it in, there will be little left in the tank.

A runner depends on two different types of eating — good daily nutrition for energy storage and smart fueling during efforts. Fueling is a combination of carbohydrate, fat, and protein intake. Howe emphasized the research and stated that there is no current study that shows the benefit of low-carbohydrate intake for endurance athletes. Ultrarunners are already well-trained to use their own fat as fuel during long efforts. Additional fat intake requires more oxygen consumption compared to carbohydrates, and it takes fat too long to break down during exercise to be very useful. Protein, while it may help with muscle recovery, doesn’t provide too much energy during running. The focus really needs to be on the simple sugar calories alongside a bit of fat to satiate and a little protein to rebuild muscles and foster recovery.

Certainly, most ultrarunners may need more nuanced and individualized nutrition consultation and advice, but in a nutshell, Howe was urgent in expressing the basics of training nutrition — start early and maintain.

Bryon Powell - 2023 Hardrock 100 - Telluride snack stop

iRunFar founding editor Bryon Powell eats watermelon at the Telluride aid station during the Hardrock 100. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi


Before the run, focus on eating simple carbohydrates, like a sports bar or oatmeal. Runners need fuel to increase blood glucose and should schedule to eat one to three hours before exercise to allow food to digest and energy to be available. She suggested 0.5 to two grams of carbohydrates/kilogram of body weight pre-run. Even if it is early, grab something — fasted runs aren’t advised.

During the Run

During an effort, a runner’s goal is to maintain blood glucose in order to provide consistent energy to the muscles and blood flow to the gut. The focus should be on consuming simple carbs, about 200 to 300 kilocalories/hour. Howe emphasized that real food is not necessarily better than sports food while running and that gels, blocks, or bars work as fast and efficient fuel.

Importantly, if too much time passes without fueling, blood flow to the gut is reduced, and when a runner finally attempts to eat something, it will just sit there likely leading to gastrointestinal distress. Consistent fueling will keep blood flowing and aid digestion. Even if you don’t feel hungry, it’s important to maintain the blood glucose level so it doesn’t drop down beyond the point of recovery. Even if the stomach is cranky, small amounts of sugar intake will keep the gut working.


After the run, it’s important to replenish all the calories that were burned and to help repair muscle damage. Howe emphasized co-ingestion of carbohydrates and protein — 0.8 grams of carbohydrates/kilogram bodyweight plus 0.2 to 0.4 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight. She advised to eat within 45 minutes of finishing, especially after longer bouts of running. She stated, “It’s more important to eat something than eat the perfect something.” In sum, eat a good snack if you can’t have a meal right away, and then focus on a more balanced meal later.

Replacing fluid loss is also of tremendous import and dehydration can lead to immediate performance decline. Sweat rates are very individual, and sweat sodium tests are very common protocols and help runners understand how much fluid to adequately replace. It’s important to note there is no research to support that the addition of sodium improves performance or that the lack of it is related to cramping.

Howe’s Simple Reminders:

  • Practice fueling, and make a plan for your race. Practice race-day conditions and plan on where you will resupply.
  • Eat early and maintain.
  • Leave space to adapt and have alternatives on the course.
  • If your gastrointestinal system is upset, try to figure out the cause, and pay attention if you’re behind on fuel or hydration.
  • Most things can be made better.

Coaching with Jason Koop

Jason Koop took to the stage on four separate occasions during the conference to address the following topics:

Crewing and Race-Day Logistics

Koop may be an outlier in the fact that he has been able to make crewing a part of his business. He discussed knowing the logistics of race day and establishing communication, understanding the tactical both from a business and professional relationship standpoint, and openly conversing about personal experience and the possibility of facing failure on race day. For coaches looking into crewing, he urges preparation for the following responsibilities:

  • Expand on your athlete’s race-day plan by bringing food and gear and having the wherewithal to adapt on the fly
  • Know the logistics of the race and consider the available touchpoints you can provide from start to finish. Just being there speaks volumes
  • Bring something emotional to the table and also know when to get out of the way. This means it is important to know your athletes well — what will keep them motivated and moving. Additionally, it is crucial to match their mood out there on the course
Cody Lind is refueled by his crew before the Rucky Chucky river crossing

Cody Lind being tended to by his crew before the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78 of the Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Alex Potter

Training Program Development

Long- and short-term ultrarunning training programs will definitely be a perennial topic and debatable within coaching circles, but there are several key takeaways that are largely informative from a physiological and endurance perspective. Ultrarunning events all have unique physiological demands layered with unique environmental conditions. Athletes often have “A” races and a handful of training races over the course of an annual training plan. There is no one-size-fits-all running plan for ultrarunners. A coach has to be mindful of the duration of an event, how much time it will take a runner, the elevation gain and loss, the dominant surface, the possible environmental conditions, and the nutritional needs. Koop reminded us of the following:

  • Long-range planning encompasses nine to 24 months and is where true fitness is gained.
  • Short-range planning focuses on two to six-week blocks and can be broken down into micro- and mesocycles in order to understand fatigue, overload, and recovery.
  • Koop’s most salient words are, “Tune the physiology that is most important last and tune the physiology that is least important first.”

 Physiological Testing/Application

While not all ultrarunners want to pursue in-depth physiological testing, Koop discussed how this data can inform training and how the testing implemented needs to be robust — meaning it needs to be repeatable in a consistent manner. Both the coach and the athlete need to vet laboratories prior to testing. Consistency trumps perfection. There are several metrics that can be valuable to drive the training process and assess fitness over time. It is important to be mindful that some things like thresholds can be field tested, but this lacks the sophistication of an exercise physiology lab. Koop walked the audience through a set of results from VO2 max testing, lactate threshold testing, and fat oxidation testing. He showed the power of data coupled with the intimate knowledge of the individual runner — context is key.

Best Marathon Shoes - New Balance FuelCell Rebel V3 - track workout in snow - feature photo

Some physiological testing can be done in the field rather than in the lab. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Physiological Requirements of Ultrarunning

Ultrarunning is interdisciplinary, and many of its unique demands can be trained for, including nutrition, dealing with gut discomfort, heat, and muscle fatigue. He stresses that there are four key ways to get to the physiological requirements for success:

  1. Ask questions — learn about the event and the runner
  2. Look at training models — assess running history trends
  3. Measure both qualitative and quantitative data
  4. Dissect the post hoc training data — learn what the data is saying and use it to inform the training plan

Koop stressed that it isn’t by accident that ultrarunning is 10 years behind other sports when it comes to coaching and training. It isn’t as straightforward as marathon running, triathlon, or cycling because it is a highly layered sport. For example, running economy doesn’t correlate to performance in ultrarunning the same way as it does in marathon running, an important training factor highlighted in the following recently published article: Berger et al. (2023) “The Limits of Ultra: Towards an Interdisciplinary Understanding of Ultra-Endurance Running Performance.” Sports Medicine.

Strength Training with Heather Hart, CSCS

Heather Hart, CSCS masterfully guided a room filled with ultrarunning and endurance athletes and coaches on how to properly integrate strength training into an ultrarunning program. She elucidated both the pros and cons of strength practices and how to implement best an integrative program based on the needs of the runner and their goals.

The value of strength training begets a long list of health benefits: increased bone density, focus on muscle imbalances, the ability to withstand ground reaction forces, increased coordination, increased force development, decreased fatigue, better recovery, and increased running economy are just a handful of the anatomical and physiological gains from strength and mobility training. Hart highlights that these benefits are especially important for older women runners.

Specifically, Hart discussed the importance of conducting a needs analysis with the runner which is a movement history and assessment of weaknesses and injuries. This allows for appropriate exercise selection based on the runner’s skill and available equipment, and the proper scheduling of frequency, volume, and intensity to appropriately provide the desired stimulus and progressive overload.

The value and need for strength training for ultrarunning athletes is becoming more evident both in the scientific literature and anecdotally. Not all strength is created equally and finding the right strength coach who understands endurance sports — especially ultrarunning — is integral for a successful training plan.

One of the main takeaways for runners is to understand that during the heat of the running season, the running workout needs to be prioritized, especially if the runner is balancing two workouts per day. That means the run comes first in the day and a strength workout can be scheduled six or more hours later. However, during the off-season, this situation can be flipped and strength gains and mobility may be the focus and the running volume is secondary.


A short morning yoga practice can help maintain functional mobility in endurance runners. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Ultrarunning Trends and Health Considerations with Nick Tiller, Ph.D.

Accomplished author, exercise physiologist, respiratory specialist, and researcher, Nick Tiller, Ph.D. presented three separate times over the course of the weekend. He is the author of “The Skeptic’s Guide to Sports Science” and has a scientific and academic approach to ultrarunning, something which came through in all his presentations.


This lecture was well-toned and hopefully an integral part of the conference every year. The sports market changes rapidly and it is often fraught with enticing advertising leading runners to be easily swayed to consume or use a certain product without fully knowing the details. Tiller mentioned things like supplements, massage guns, balms and oils, cold water immersion, and barefoot running as recent trends in the sport. His approach to these was to “keep an open mind but not so open your brains fall out.” He noted there is little or no regulation of many of these marketplace items, leaving little or no accountability. Some key points from this presentation include:

  • Menthols may stimulate a perception of increased airflow, but there are no actual changes. It, as well as camphor, may have some mild analgesic (pain-reducing) effects, but it may be placebo effects.
  • Ice bathing is thought to decrease inflammation and swelling, but several studies have shown it to inhibit recovery following training by blunting the anabolic signal and possibly impairing protein synthesis. It may facilitate recovery if multiple events occur in a day but is likely a net disadvantage overall.
  • Barefoot running shows no change in tendon stiffness, no evidence of injury prevention, and no evidence of foot-strike benefits.
  • Be wary of claims that appeal to nature. Natural doesn’t always mean better.

Tiller noted we as runners and consumers are often looking for efficiency and a quick fix, but oftentimes, we are better off going for the lowest-hanging fruit, rather than being swayed by pseudoscience. He left the audience with the advice to ask for evidence, be critical thinkers, and be skeptics in order to make well-informed and researched choices.

Respiratory Physiology

Tiller’s second lecture was titled Respiratory Physiology: Fatigue, Fads, and Ferocious Pseudoscience. It was filled with dense science and again brought to the foreground areas where athletes and coaches need to have well-intentioned skepticism. The pearls of wisdom were the following:

  • Your respiratory muscles can fatigue, just like other muscles. This may also lead to limb fatigue and a decrease in postural control over the course of an ultra-distance event. While respiratory fatigue is not good for the ultrarunner, Tiller made a point of saying that the respiratory system is robust and there isn’t a high need for concern unless you have an underlying disorder of the system.
  • Backpacks and sports bras may constrain rib cage kinematics and could lead to an increase in respiratory fatigue.
  • Chronic responses, such as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), are more common in cold and dry conditions. The respiratory system is more efficient in warm and humid environments and has to work harder when it’s cold and dry to warm up and humidify the air. Repeated EIB can lead to long-term damage to the airways.
  • Pulmonary edema can follow prolonged exercise at a high altitude and tends to be acute and mild. Research hasn’t shown yet if repeated episodes lead to a chronic issue.
  • Nasal breathing, nasal dilators, canned oxygen, and deep breathing are often dressed and presented as providing huge benefits in the form of improved energy, toxin elimination, and improved exercise performance. Tiller warned the audience that these plausible claims are also overshadowed by implausible claims.
Gossamer Gear Mumur 36 Hyperlight Backpack - winter fastpacking

Exercising in cold and dry conditions can lead to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Ultrarunning Health Consequences

Any sport has inherent risks, but ultrarunning has its unique concerns, including those on long-term health. Tiller delivered the science especially related to cardiac anatomy, including discussions of troponins, ejection fractions, and myocardial fibrosis. Tiller presented the following summarized action steps ultrarunners can take to limit some health risks:

  • Limit dehydration, it is stressful for the heart and the kidneys.
  • Research has shown acute damage to the heart following long bouts of exercise, but most athletes generally recover within a week of the event. There have yet to be long-term studies to show if there are cumulative effects from this damage.
  • Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs before, during, or after training and races. They lead to constriction of the blood vessels to the kidneys, which puts them under a lot of stress and can cause more harm than good.
  • Avoid extreme muscle damage by having the fitness and strength needed for a race or run.
  • Train the gut. It undergoes a lot of stress while running. The mechanical stress from jostling decreases blood flow, and the processing of carbohydrates can cause either upper or lower gastrointestinal distress.
  • Gut issues are common reasons people DNF. It’s not the gastrointestinal distress directly that causes the DNF, but it leads to the athlete not eating or drinking, and then they can’t keep running. Maintaining nutrition and hydration are essential for success.
  • Stay informed of the relative risks associated with an event or training process. Ultrarunners may need the reminder that what we are trying to do in ultra-endurance sports is “not normal” and the benefits and risks must both be considered.

Biomechanics with Wouter Hoogkamer, Ph.D.

What do you get when you add physics, anatomy, motion, and forces together? According to the esteemed Wouter Hoogkamer, Ph.D., you get biomechanics — an imperfect, but informative science for running. Simply, it is an evaluation of movements and forces experienced by the human body while running. What we learn from biomechanics has the potential to prevent some running-related injuries. Hoogkamer has a long resume of research, including famous work on running shoes that are currently changing the landscape of road running, maybe even trail running. His lecture was packed with science, but also a lot of humor. Here are some of the key points we pulled from his lecture:

  • Ultra events are not flat. Ultrarunners walk, and walking produces different forces on the body. Therefore, we have to work on walking while we are training.
  • Runners may be taking an unnecessary risk if they try to change their running form when there are no evident problems.
  • Beginning runners will benefit more from just running and getting used to their bodies. He stated, there are “more benefits from running more and doing strength training than doing boring drills.”
  • Research has shown that “not all super shoes are created equal” and that there currently isn’t a lot of research to support the use of super shoes in trail running.
Best Trail Running Poles - using trail running poles for uphill powerhiking

Training hiking muscles is an important aspect of ultrarunning. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Environmental Physiology with Lindsay Golich, M.S.

Lindsay Golich, M.S. from the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center covered how environmental physiology, including heat, humidity, and altitude affects runners.


Most ultrarunning races take place in the summer and may be in mountainous regions. There is a big difference between being trained for a road marathon at sea level and being able to navigate the changes in altitude that come with most ultrarunning events. Add to that the fact that runners may be training at low elevations, and then need the physiological adaptations to these changes in altitude on race day.

Interestingly, some of the physiological adaptations occur immediately, including increased ventilation, increased heart rate, increased urination, increased dehydration, and poorer sleep. Simultaneously, the body is working harder at the cellular level to create more red blood cells. The kidneys specifically produce more erythropoietin, which stimulates stem cells in the bone marrow to produce more and larger red blood cells.

For altitude acclimatization, the goal is to increase red blood cells. The best advice for runners racing at altitude is to arrive either just before the event or at least a week in advance. There is minimal performance decrease in the first 24 hours at altitude, but athletes will feel the detrimental effects the most three to five days after getting to elevation. However, after day seven, the body has largely climbed out of the deficit. Ideally, an endurance athlete needs five to 10 days prior to the event for proper acclimatization. High overall fitness and consistent training can help a runner be less affected by altitude.


Heat acclimatization adds a layer of stress to training. Adaptations can occur after five days of heat training, and after two weeks, the body is able to regulate heat stress more acutely. Runners can acclimate to heat through natural exposure, simulated exposure such as on pool decks, overdressing, and passive techniques such as a sauna. There are different heat adaptation protocols, but it’s found that initial adaptation is best done a few weeks before a competition, and then smaller amounts of exposure are better as the competition gets closer. This method is less intrusive and allows for better recovery. Acclimatization techniques can help with all temperatures.

Other important points mentioned were:

  • Training above 8,500 feet may be detrimental to any training gains due to the lack of ability to push volume and intensity and its influence on recovery.
  • Iron is a key element to measure to see if an athlete is ready to travel to altitude. A runner needs good iron stores to ensure oxygen delivery to the muscles and carbon dioxide removal.
  • Caffeine can improve oxygen saturation. She recommended using caffeine one hour prior to competition with eight to 16 ounces of water. This is something you’ll want to practice with training.
  • Golich mentioned ketone monoesters, which have been showing up on social media a lot recently. Basically, she noted that the cost is excessive and they have to be taken for an extended period of time. She stated ketone studies have been done on athletes who are well-trained, so this is really fine-tuning of fitness. You likely can control simpler things first.
Melissa Beaury and Alli Hartz - running in the desert

Heat acclimatization can help you cope with hot racing conditions. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Sports Psychology and Coaching Considerations with Justin Ross, PsyD

Justin Ross, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and certified coach, discussed sports psychology and coaching considerations, a relatively new topic and burgeoning frontier for endurance sports, especially ultrarunning. There was tremendous relevant information packed into a short hour, leaving the audience wanting for more.

Ross reminded the audience that the mind and a healthy mental landscape are highly trainable skills. Ultrarunning psychology includes dealing with increased fatigue, the pursuit of personal goals, and a drive to explore physical and mental limits. There are known physiological limitations to endurance events, but how does the mind contribute to these limitations? Ross suggests that exhaustion may not be when the body encounters a potential physical limitation, but when the athlete experiences the maximum level of effort willing to be tolerated alongside the experience of discomfort. Self-talk can help raise these limits, which is something he feels you can train. Ross’ high points were the following:

  • Just like you can’t unlearn English, you can’t unlearn how you already talk to yourself, but you can figure out what you want to do differently, and what you want to learn better.
  • Perception of effort is the ultimate determinant of endurance performance, and we can use self-talk to affect this perception of effort.
  • Be mindful of what he calls cognitive appraisals — meaning your internal interpretation of what the watch is telling you and your relationship with the data.
  • Pay attention to your self-efficacy, which includes your motivation and “how you put your workout away.”

Open Forum Panels

The weekend also had four panel discussions, including an Open Forum Question and Answer panel during the last hour on the last day — a final opportunity to ask that burning question that didn’t quite get addressed, to understand some piece of science that seemed relevant but sounded obscure, or to hear an elaboration on why strength training is a fundamental part of ultrarunning training. The panels were a great way to break up the lectures and allowed attendees to hear from more experts over a wide range of topics.

Athlete Recovery

Stephanie Howe, Lindsay Golich, Jason Koop, and Sammie Lewis, DPT addressed athlete recovery during the first panel discussion. They covered the role of technology and nutrition in recovery, how recovery is best assessed, and how physiological, training, and environmental variables all factor into the bigger picture.

Key points:

  • Lewis emphasized that most technologies don’t help with performance despite advertising and media promotion. A healthy person without a deficit may not see any improvement. Some modalities and recovery tools found in sports clinics may help with range of motion and nervous system regulation, thereby reducing stress and possibly pain, but overall, athletes are better off resting.
  • Howe noted that after a 100-kilometer or longer race, eat whatever the first few days because you need the calories. If you fail to eat enough, your body will become catabolic and start to break down.
  • Golich emphasized one of the main themes of the weekend: focus on being as fit and healthy as possible. If you’re fit, you’ll be better at recovery. If you’re not doing the fundamentals, the other tools won’t work.
  • Alcohol has no benefit post-run except for the socio-emotional perks. Have water first and try to co-ingest your carbohydrates and protein.
  • Cramping is likely a combination of a lack of training readiness and dehydration.
  • Get as much sleep as you can. Be wary of wearable technologies and don’t ever use just one data point. You have to watch the trends and not get stuck on one piece of data to drive your recovery and training decisions.

In sum, the panelists stressed the need to go for the lowest-hanging fruit. As a clinician and a coach, we heard and learned from these experts that there aren’t many things a runner can take or do that will replace good training, top-notch fitness, and being healthy with sound nutritional and sleep habits.

Best Heart Rate Monitor for Running - Training with the Myzone MZ-Switch and the Polar H10 - feature photo

Training with data can help, but focusing on recovery, sleep, and nutrition can provide bigger gains. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Building a Coaching Practice

The second panel was specific to building an ultrarunning coaching practice. It featured Cliff Pittman, Heather Hart, and Faith Raymond Strafach, M.S. — all long-time running coaches. The panel was an opportunity to both learn about the foundations of a successful business and discuss what a runner should look for when finding a coach.

Some of our takeaways:

  • Find someone who inspires you as an athlete and who also puts themselves out there as educated and trustworthy.
  • Make sure they aren’t just an athlete but have a high capacity to coach, mentor, and teach.
  • Coaches should be asking, “How can I help you?”
  • A coaching business is more than a transaction. It is a relationship between two people with real lives.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) may start to take over some of this work, but it will provide a completely different service, and the human element will never be replaced. AI may be able to provide a generic, static training plan, but athletes will eventually want more.
  • A running coach has to be mindful of the fundamentals of any business and be able to develop a plan for marketing, retention, growth, finances, continuing education, and structure.

Injury Prevention and Intervention

Nat Collins, DPT, CSCS; Jessica Cozine-Lehman, DPT; and Heather Hart held a panel on injury prevention and intervention. If we could add some constructive criticism, it would be to highlight the fact that physical therapists dominated the weekend stage, and many runners have a more varied healthcare network beyond just them. Hopefully, in the future, the variety of professionals will be more represented and taken seriously within this context. With that being said, this panel had some great key points:

  • Overuse injuries are often an issue of load management.
  • It is important for your coach to stay within their scope and know when to advise you to seek help.
  • Cozine-Lehman recommended seeking medical help if pain is sharp or persists for more than three days.
  • It’s important to recognize the difference between expected soreness from an increased load on the body and injury.
  • Ultrarunners need to be managed differently due to the load on their muscles being longer than other runners, so it’s important to seek practitioners who understand the difference.
  • Hart emphasized that strength training is injury prevention and that a healthy runner is a better runner. You may have to sacrifice some time on the trails to get in a strength training session, but it’s worth it when considering the benefits of injury prevention.

Open Discussion

The final open panel discussion rounded out the weekend as the last presentation. It featured Cliff Pittman, Jason Koop, Stephanie Howe, and Nick Tiller. It allowed the attendees to ask any lingering questions from the weekend. Interestingly, the conversation mostly concerned the female ultrarunner and their unique needs through menstruation, pregnancy, post-partum, and into menopause. There was a conference-ending impression that these topics would be addressed in next year’s conference. In the words of scientist and author Stacy Sims, Ph.D., “Women aren’t small men.”

Best Running Shoes for Women - testing running shoes for women on dirt roads

Women aren’t small men. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Golden Nuggets of Wisdom

After a long weekend of learning, there are key takeaway points that are worth emphasizing. These are golden nuggets of wisdom that you can apply right away when you get back home. If you have made it this far, you have gathered not only layered information but also an array of data surrounding the interdisciplinary whole that is the sport of ultrarunning and coaching. Briefly, we present our key pearls of wisdom from the weekend and hopefully motivate you the reader — ultrarunner, coach, health care professional — to do a deep dive into the annual UESCA Ultrarunning Coach Conference.

  1. Don’t base training or running decisions off of one data point — Both the qualitative and the quantitative data matter. Runners and coaches have to pull together all the puzzle pieces, including trends when deciding what action to take.
  2. Focus on good solid food intake.
  3. Start with the simple things like sleep, good nutrition, and your overall fitness — That hour each night you’re spending foam rolling and using the massage gun perhaps would be better spent just sleeping! And maybe you can make yourself more fit instead of buying the altitude tent.
  4. Find training consistency.
  5. Overall fitness is better armor for altitude, extreme environmental conditions, and recovery from hard efforts.
  6. Tell your coach when things feel off in the body and mind — This is where it’s helpful to have a team of learned professionals. Not every runner has a coach, but if possible, build a trusted healthcare team around you. They will help you understand what is off and how to plan accordingly.
  7. Ultrarunning coaching is a professional occupation — nuanced, interdisciplinary, layered, science-driven, and community-oriented.

[Editor’s Note: iRunFar readers can use discount code CONF100 and get $100 off any of UESCA’s certification courses through April 15, 2024.]

Call for Comments

  • Which part of the conference would you be interested in learning more about?
  • Do you think there’s a need for more training and educational standards for running coaches?
2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference - lecture

The 2023 United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s Ultrarunning Coach Conference was made up of a series of lectures and panels about all things ultrarunning. Photo: Tony Hill

Molly Schmelzle

Molly Schmelzle is a gear reviewer for iRunFar. She is relatively new to the reviewing scene but is a veteran competitive athlete, ultrarunner, and writer. Molly has authored biology-based research papers and numerous grants for funding opportunities. She has been coaching runners of all abilities with a particular focus on strength and conditioning training over the last 7 years. Together with her partner, a sports chiropractor with a specialty in running and endurance athletes, they are in the beginning stages of building a mobility and strength program for runners. Molly is a dedicated biologist for the state of Oregon and is a strength coach on the side. She enjoys running ultras in remote mountainous areas and will occasionally hop into road half and full marathons.

Molly Schmelzle

Kelly Lange, DC CCSP is a sports chiropractor based in Ashland, Oregon. She is the Medical Director for the Pine to Palm 100 Mile and has worked with runners from the Olympic Trials to the Western States 100. She specializes in feet and is an instructor of extremity technique in the Masters of Chiropractic Pediatrics at Logan University.