The Three-Day Training Camp

AJW writes about the benefits of a three-day training camp for ultramarathon build-up, especially 100-mile races.

By on March 31, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomEvery year around this time, as athletes gear up their training for long races in the summer, I get asked questions about the best ways to prepare. Recently, an athlete asked me, “In preparing for a 100-mile race, what do you think the most important training thing to do is?”

Before being asked this question, I had never really thought about narrowing my thoughts down to just one thing. But, after reflecting on it for a few days and thinking about what I have observed in the sport over the past 20 years, I found my answer:

In preparing for the physical demands of a 100-mile race, the single most important thing to do is a three-day training camp.

If the timing is right and your plans allow, there are a few organized options for three-day camps. Both Western States 100 and Leadville 100 Mile organize three-day training weekends that allow runners to experience much of the course before race day and to log 60 to 70 miles along the way. Additionally, there are two fantastic three-day stage races in the United States, such as Three Days of Syllamo in March in Arkansas and the West Virginia Trilogy in October in West Virginia. Both of these events cover in excess of 90 miles and provide excellent training volume.

Emily Hawgood - Adidas Team Camp Grand Canyon

The adidas Terrex team, during their 2021 training camp, on a run in the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Emily Hawgood.

However, if none of these organized events fit into your schedule, I recommend a good old-fashioned do-it-yourself (DIY) training camp. For the DIY version, it is important to time your camp somewhere between four to six weeks in advance of your event and to block out the time with family, work, and more, because you will want to be able to go all in. If you can travel to the racecourse for your training weekend, that is ideal, but if not, it is wise to find a locale very similar to the race environment of your goal race to have your camp. In finding a training ground, pay attention to trail surface, vertical gain, and weather conditions, and do your best to match those up with your goal race.

In setting up the schedule for the three days, for a 100-mile race, I suggest at least 70 total miles over the three days, with the first day being the longest. Something like 30 miles on the first day and 20 miles each on days two and three often works best, although some variation might be necessary. Additionally, some folks want to get practice running at night on tired legs, so you can integrate some night running into the three days.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the three-day training camp, in my view, is not so much the physical benefit, which is substantial, but the mental benefit. In that context, I urge people when planning their camps, to figure out a way that they can be completely absorbed in training and recovery with no distractions. Whenever possible, this is a time to unplug from social media and work emails and devote yourself to the task at hand. While this may not be possible for all athletes, the psychological edge that can be gained from an “all in” camp can be a game changer.

So, for all of you reading this who are thinking through your training plans for the next few months, consider a three-day training camp. I can assure you you’ll come out of it more physically fit and, better yet, mentally strong and well-prepared for what lies ahead.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Mountain State Brewing Company logoThis week’s beer of the week comes from Mountain State Brewing Company in Thomas, West Virginia, one of the sponsors of the West Virginia Trilogy. Their Miner’s Daughter Oatmeal Stout is as dark and as rich as the coal that comes out of the West Virginia mines. Creamy smooth, this is a classic oatmeal stout that has a wonderful blend of chocolate sweetness and burnt coffee bitterness.

Call for Comments

Have you tried a three-day training camp as part of your ultramarathon prep? Either organized or more informal? If so, did you find it beneficial?

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Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.