Training for an Ultramarathon

ultramarathon training[This guide is written for someone who has completed a marathon. If you find this article useful, you may be interested in my book Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons. While more than a decade later, I feel like everything in this article is still relevant, this article remains up primarily as it was the catalyst that made iRunFar what it is today. Since then, I’ve compiled a much more comprehensive Ultimate Guide to Ultramarathon Training article that you should check out!]

There are two key things to focus on in training for any ultramarathon, but first, what does training for an ultra look like? Well, training for an ultramarathon looks an awful lot like training for a marathon. In fact, at the shorter side of things, anyone who has trained for a marathon is likely pretty well trained for a 50k ultra over similar terrain. There is the caveat that training to finish the Chicago Marathon would not prepare you terribly well for, say, the Noble Canyon 50k or the Promised Land 50k.

On The Long Run
If you’re relatively new to running you can follow any of the prominent marathon training programs with one modification and be pretty well set to run almost any ultramarathon.* That modification is the long run.

When looking at ultra training on the weekly level nothing is more important than the long run. You don’t need one every week, but the more the better. If you’ve run only one or two marathons, you’ll need to start building up your long runs from shorter distances. Hopefully, you can start the training program by substituting longer long runs than the schedule would call for. Many marathon training programs call for long runs every other week. See if you can get long efforts in most weeks, though it’s not a bad idea to alternate longer long runs with shorter long runs. If you are training for 50k, try and log a few runs in 25 miles area with as many 20ish mile runs as you are comfortable. For 50 miles, try 25 miles a couple times with maybe one effort around 30. Though far from impossible, I would not recommend a 100 miler as a first ultra, not because it’s impossible. Rather, I’d recommend using some shorter races such as a 50k and either a 50 miler or 100k as part of the build up to a 100 miler. You can, of course, do a bunch of 20-30 mile runs, a 30+ miler and a 40-50 mile run on your own if you feel the need to be an ultra virgin when you hit the 100 mile starting line.

Since I just discussed long runs, here’s a quick note on running back-to-back (B2B) long runs. Some ultra-training programs swear by them. I’d say that they don’t need to be a regular part of a first time ultrarunner’s training. In fact, unless one is running their first ultra after many years of running, I think there’s too high a risk of injury or illness in running B2Bs very often, but I’ve got no hard basis for that.

That said, one strategically placed 3-6 weeks before your first ultra has some benefits. It’s great to have a little experience in dealing with heavy, unresponsive legs and a beat psyche before race day. It’s also a great way to get in a bunch of miles. I would caution that one should be alert for injuries (not to be confused with soreness or tiredness, which are what you should be learning how to deal with) on the second day and in subsequent days. Be sure to take a good recovery after the B2B.

I do think B2Bs are useful in advanced ultra training, both when run for a “bonk run” (depleting glycogen stores the first day, not replenishing, and then going out for another long run in an already depleted state the next day) or normally. I know some studs who have an annual B2B2B on the Angeles Crest 100 course four weeks before running Western States. Most important, it will get you used to running tired – it’s definitely worked for them.

[From personal experience, if I can only hit the trails for one day of a B2B, do it the second day. That’s much preferable to tiring your legs the first day and then being faced with faster road miles the second. Ugh.]

Specificity of Training
After the long run, the most important aspect in training for an ultramarathon is specificity of training. I am in no way suggesting that you need to run on the course every day or every weekend. Not at all. Indeed, you can be well prepared for a particular ultra having never stepped a foot on the course prior to race day. What I mean is that you should be prepared for the footing, climbs/descents, and possibly the conditions you’ll face on the course.

The footing component to specificity seems fairly obvious. It would be beneficial to have run on a trail prior to starting a trail ultra. On the flip side, running all your miles on forest trails might not be the wisest thing going into a flat road 50 miler! Even being familiar with the type of trail can be quite useful. For instance, it would be great to have recent experience on rocky trails before hitting the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 or to have logged miles on sand before hitting the Marathon des Sables. Be sure to check what footing is likely to be at the race. I’ve heard many stories of folks who thought the JFK 50 was completely benign only to feel like a fish on a bicycle on the rocky Appalachian Trail section.

Many ultras take place in mountains. It would seem to make sense that one should be prepared to climb these mountains before toeing the line, right? Right. Well, that’s true and you should log some climbing miles before the race. You’ll very likely be mixing running and walking during climbs depending on the terrain and your fitness level. If the race has shallow inclines that you plan to run, practice running up shallow inclines. If there are relatively steep climbs, remember to walk some hills during your training runs even if you don’t feel it’s necessary. This is practice for race day. (Walking training can very important to someone training for their first… or 100th 100 miler.) If you plan to run up all the hills, no matter how steep, then have at ’em during your training.

One of the most overlooked aspects of training for an ultramarathon is training for the downhills. There are two reasons for training for downhills, one is to run faster and the other is to finish. Regarding going faster, many new trail runners either flail about when coming down a hill or are overly tentative. Both of these approaches to downhill running are inefficient. For a trail ultra, practice running down some relatively steep hills to help either refine your form and give yourself more confidence on the descent. If you often run hilly trails, there’s no need to design special runs for this – just be aware of the downhills in your training. If your race will have technical downhills, try to hit some technical downhill during your training.

On the other hand, if your race has many thousands of feet of descent, training for downhills can seriously improve your chances of finishing or finishing well. If memory serves me correctly, “dead quads” are the most frequent reason for a runner not finishing the Western States 100. I wouldn’t doubt that for a minute. During my first 100 attempt at Western States in 2004 I remember the misery I was in while walking down (yes, walking down) to No Hands Bridge after mile 90. Though I could run up the final climb at Robie Point, I could not run downhill on my blown quads. As the physiology of downhill running muscle trauma is outside the scope of this entry, it’s enough to know that downhill running involves a different type of muscle contraction than we would experience during running on flatter surfaces… on which we tend to do most of our training. Before running my first mountain 100 in a given year, I go find the most convenient very long downhill (in my case 1650′ of descent over 2.6 miles) and run multiple repeats of it. I comfortably run/walk the climb and then push the downhill portion. During my first session of the year, I might run only two or three repeats, but by later sessions I try to hit four or five repeats.

Conditions – Night/Heat/Cold/Snow/Etc.
Again, it makes sense to be prepared for what you’ll face on race day. If you’ll be running a race that will have you on the course at night, practice running at night on a like surface (i.e., road, trail, grass). If it’s likely to be 90F and humid or 100+F, be sure to get some heat training sessions. If it will be frigid (think Arrowhead or Susitna), then try to run enough in the cold to figure out what you’ll need. If the course is likely to have snow on race day (even during a hot year, there can be many mile soft snow cover left on the early portions of the Western States course), think about going out for some snowy runs the winter before. I think you get the idea.

On weekly mileage, the good news is you’ll be fine whatever your weekly mileage is so long as you get your long runs in. Really. I ran my first 100 while I was working full time and going to law school. I averaged, at most, 50 miles a week in the 6 months leading up to the race. I’m convinced I could have gotten by with less. During the week, it’s great to get in whatever you can get in, but get out there one day during the weekend and log those miles.

That said, other then long runs, nothing beats consistent significant mileage. You don’t want to over do it, but one of the best ways to run better at any race length, and especially for ultras, is to run more. If you can get out there 6 or 7 days a week, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. (Obviously, if you know your body can’t handle more than 5 days or your schedule won’t let you, don’t try to run days 6 and 7.)

I find that consistently running everyday or nearly everyday creates training momentum. Once I’m running consistently for two or three weeks, I tend to follow through and stick with consistent training. On the other hand, if I’m inconsistent early in a comeback from injury or a rest period, I tend to stay inconsistent. Also, I find that after any period of inconsistent training (excluding pre-race tapers or brief recovery periods), I feel pretty bad until I’ve hit 10-14 days of consistent training at which point my legs go from feeling heavier and heavier to feeling strong.

One thing that can be sacrificed from the marathon training regime when training for an ultra is speedwork. If you’re looking to set a course record or make the national 100k team, you should be running track intervals or tempo or fartleks. If you are new to ultrarunning and enjoy hitting the track, go for it. It won’t hurt and it can help. The primary reason that I highlight that speed work is not absolutely necessary for ultramarathons is to make it clear that if fitting speedwork is a major stressor or is leading to injuries, you can cut it. Consistent, injury-free training is a major benefit when training for ultras. Personally, I still enjoy pounding out some fast miles on occasion and in times when I have firmly established an endurance base, I regularly add speedwork to my training mix.

Note that some emerging research is showing that high intensity intervals (such as 8 x 20 seconds all out with 10 seconds rest) may significantly improve VO2max, a prime indicator of endurance performance. However, in the case of an experienced marathoner looking to complete his or her first ultra, working on leg strength (by running, not weight lifting) is of primary importance.

Maybe the most important piece of advice I share with any new runner or a runner new to ultrarunning is don’t over do it. Rest when you need to. Listen to your body. If you need to take a day off, do it. If you need to take three days off, do it. Actively rehabilitate with ice, heat, rest, compression, massage, and, in very rare instances, anti-inflammatory drugs, which should be discontinued as soon as possible.

Besides acute physical breakdown, be aware of illness and stress. Don’t wear yourself out trying to force too much training or to fit 36 hours worth of stuff into every 24 hours. You’ll drive yourself and those around you nuts. You won’t enjoy it. You’ll be miserable. Be reasonable.

If you go through a great training period and start to feel worn out for a couple days in a row. You may be over training. Take it easy for a week. Even during the peak of training for a focus race, if I feel burnt out I will take off until I want to run again. Then I wait another day or two and then start running. Your enthusiasm for running is key to getting through the training and key to getting to the finish line!

Talking With Others
As I mentioned in How to Choose a First Ultramarathon, you can learn much about ultras from those who’ve run them. You can learn about races, training, gear, etc. For this reason (aside from friendship) experienced ultrarunners can make great training partners for those new to ultrarunning. If you don’t have other ultrarunners in your area who you can meet up with or your schedule won’t let you, seek out ultra advice online. Follow the ultralist, checkout out the relevant forums at Cool Running and Runners World, read ultrarunners’ blogs, volunteer/pace/crew at an ultra where you can meet/watch/learn from other ultrarunners. Whether online or in person, you’d be surprised how approachable many ultrarunners, even the very best, are.

Some people think that it’s silly to hire a coach. That hiring a coach is a waste of money. That anyone can coach themselves. Until recently, I was one of the people who thought like that, but then I was being silly myself. There are plenty of reasons one would hire a coach. A coach could be useful to someone new to running that would not be able to formulate a training plan to fit their own needs. A coach could be useful if you have no other ultrarunners to learn from or regularly bounce ideas off of. A coach can be someone who holds you accountable if you need it. A coach can help keep your from doing too much, if that’s your tendency as it is with many ultrarunners.

If you deal with professionals in a big city, you’ll like know a bunch of people who have personal trainers. These personal trainers surely provide assistance with lifting technique, stretching, and the like, but just as importantly, the student is accountable to trainer. In fact, I think that for a busy person (and who isn’t) one of the most important things an ultrarunning coach do is collect a log on a regular basis.

If you are considering an ultramarathon coach, we suggest you take a look at iRunFar’s review of ultrarunning coaches. It’s worth noting that iRunFar offers coaching services to a limited number of students at the moment.

Non-Running Aspects of Training
Aside from the miles you put in, there are many other aspects of training for your first ultra, many of which I hope to make full entries about in the future. For instance, you need to consider the running vs. rest of life balance. (Hopefully, you figured this out while training for marathons, but it’s a bit harder with the importance of long runs for ultras.) Test nutrition, hydration, shoes, and other gear to find what does and doesn’t work for you is also something you should figure out during training. How you get yourself out the door on miserable days or when you’re tired is also important. Consider finding someone to buddy up in training for an ultra or find a local club that you can join for some runs.

* As I noted later in this post specificity of training can be an important factor in training for an ultramarathon. For some races, such as Hardrock, Badwater, or Marathon des Sables, specialized training is a very big factor.

[Update: 11/27/09 – clarified use of anti-inflammatory drugs to limited instances; revised thoughts on speedwork, especially intense speedwork.]

There are 73 comments

  1. Chris

    Great and timely advice Bryon! Met you at the 24 HRS of Momentum (team RSR)-Chris.I've been thinking of ultras for a while and this info is great. Keep in touch! peck26@earthlink.netYou are welcome at Team RSR's campsite at all future events!Chris

  2. Trail Goat

    Chris,It was great meeting you last weekend. I hope you and your team had a great time. I'm glad you found my ultra info helpful. I've got more entries planned, but please let me know if there's anything else you'd find helpful whether it be related to what I've already posted or something else entirely.

  3. Lisa Smith-Batchen

    Byron,What a great blog and what amazing information!Thank you for your kind words.Can I share your blog with mine?Thank youLisa

  4. Trail Goat

    You're welcome, Lisa. Everything I said about you was well deserved!I'd be very grateful if you'd share my blog on yours! I hope you don't mind if I add you to my blog roll.-Bryon

  5. Anonymous

    Thanks for the helpful info, Chris. I'm training for my first 50 miler (AR50 in April). As a fairly new runner (2 marathons), I'd like to know how much time you would recommend spending on cross training for ultras. I know I can benefit from weights but didn't incorporate it in my marathon trainings.Casey

  6. Trail Goat

    Casey,To be honest, I don't do the slightest bit of cross training. No lifting, no biking, no swimming. There's nothing wrong with enjoying those things, but personally, I don't even have enough time to run as much as I'd like. The closest I come to a conscious attempt at cross training is making sure to walk rather than run uphills on my rare trips to train in the mountains.That said, I'll certainly add cross training to my queue of guide entries. It does have it's time and place. Thanks for the suggestion!-Bryon

  7. fastlaine

    Thanks for your blog – I am training for my first 50 miler ultra – have run over a dozen marathons. I only have 15 weeks to train for the ultra but I ahve a good distance base – any suggestions?

  8. Trail Goat

    Fastlaine,If you've got a solid distance base, you are in good shape for a 50. When's the last time you ran a marathon and how did it go? Have you run long, say 16+, recently? Often of late? Also, does your 50 have any special conditions, such as heat, mountains, rocky trails?If you've been doing long runs consistently of late, it's time to start increasing the length of these runs by a couple miles a week. If you've done anything near 20 miles in the recent past, it would be great to get in one run of around 30 miles – this will be good physical and mental training, but will also be a good trial run for your shoes and gear, as well as your hydration and fueling patterns. It would be great to do this longer run on terrain similar to the 50 miler – either on your own or as part of a marathon (add on a bit), 50k race, or fatass. As far as race conditions, there's no need for all of your long runs to be on similar terrain and trails, but it would be great to get in some similar runs. However, if you live near trails like the ones your see on race day, run them as often as possible. While it's easy to fake a slightly different stride necessitated by unfamiliar terrain for 10 or miles or even a marathon, completely unfamiliar terrain can take out even an experience ultrarunner.Let me know if you have any more questions – either general or specific.

    1. chemicalrunner

      Hey Bryon, love the book! I'm in the beginning stages of training for my 1st 50 miler and am looking at a possible snag near the end I was hoping you might weigh in on. I know you're an advocate of switching the program around when needed to accommodate schedules but I also seem to recall that I shouldn't run my 50k tuneup run 3 weeks or closer to the 50 mile race. Sparing you extra details it would be almost impossible for me to do a 31 mile run 5 weeks out from my race (on vacation) and it just so happens that there is a trail 50k in my "backyard" exactly 3 weeks b4 the 50 (no other races within months in either direction in the entire state!). I am considering switching weeks 18 and 19 with 20 and 21. How much risk might I incur by doing my 31 mile run only 3 weeks before the 50 mile race? Thanks! Bryan

  9. aerojust

    Thanks for the great advice. I just completed my first ultra (Holiday Lake 50K) using this post as a guide for my training. I am now hooked. My weakness was the hills. I live in Virginia Beach were there are not any hills. Any advice on how to train for the hills when you are a flatlander like myself? I make it to the mountains once a month and try to run a lot of hills while there. Thanks for great postsJustus

  10. Trail Goat

    Justus,I'm glad you found my guide helpful. As for flatland hill training – try running up anything you've got available from the stairs of a tall building to a bridge/overpass that isn't flat. You can also try some weight lifting with your legs.Let me know if you have any questions going forward with your training. -BryonBTW, how'd Holiday Lake go for you? The runnability of that course makes it deceivingly challenging!

  11. Justus Stull

    Holiday Lake was great. No "real" pain or injury and I finished, which was my primary goal. I feel I could have went a lot harder. The first part of the second lap was the hardest mentally, but after that I was able to cruise along pretty well. I am going to run Dr. Horton's Promise Land 50K in April. I have a bunch of running friends who are now interested training for an Ultra. Do you mind if I link up your blog on mine and share your great posts?Thank you for all the great info.Justus aka aerojust

  12. Trail Goat

    Justus,Please do link up your log and send your friends this way. As always I'll be happy to answer questions either for the community or individually. Good luck at Promised Land. It was my first ultra and I loved it. Watch out for Apple Orchard Falls – they were my most humbling ultra moment until the final 25 miles of Wasatch a few years later. Be sure to get a couple long climbs in a mountains in beforehand.

  13. Holly

    Wow…I have signed up for my first 50k in October, and this post answered every single question I have about getting ready for that distance. Thank you so much for sharing.Holly

  14. Trail Goat

    Holly, Congrats on signing up on your first 50k. What is it? You said, I've answered everything… but if any other questions come up, please ask away. I'm always looking to add information either to this post or as a separate post. Best of luck and thanks for stopping by.Happy trails,Bryon

  15. Sat Sandhu

    Hi Trail Goat,Can I just say that your blog is simply awesome. The amount of useful information is truly brilliant.The best compliment I can give is that if it was a magazine then I'd happily pay for it.Look forward to meeting you (and running in your dust trail!!) at TRR.

  16. Trail Goat

    Sat,Thanks so much for the awesome compliment. You are too kind! Please let me know if there are any areas that you'd be interested in having iRunFar address. See you in just a few weeks out at TransRockies!

  17. Jen

    Thanks so much for this long, informative post on training. It's really useful! I'm starting training now for my 1st 50 miler.A question for you or anyone else experienced: I bike-commute 2-3 days per week, 30 miles each day. Do you think this can be substituted for 2-3 short or medium length runs during the week, or should I stick to the plan of running 5-6 days a week and fully embrace my car again? I think I'm too wimpy to do both a solid run and the ride on the same day.Thanks!Jen

  18. Trail Goat

    Jen,While I don't personal cross train, I think you should keep on keepin' on. I think 3 hours of cycling a day sure beats a couple moderate runs during the week. Hopefully, you're cycling hard enough to get a decent cardio workout. (I see plenty of bike commutes coasting to work.) Give that you'd be doing less of your training on the run, I think a mid-week moderate to long run and long runs on the weekend will be key. You need to be able to run (and/or walk) for a long way on race day.

  19. AbominableSnowman

    Ive read on other forums about 400 to 800 intervals being good training for races at elevation if you don't have any of your own. Anyone put this theory to the test?

  20. Trail Goat

    Interesting idea Snowman. I'd be skeptical, as I think running 400s and 800s would be training the wrong systems for an ultra, unless they were as part of a rolling tempo type of workout. It would be a different story if you were running a shorter race (2 hours or less) at elevation. Would love to hear others' thoughts on this.My basic philosophy on training is that very few people who train for ultras run enough miles to make any sort of speed work necessary or useful except maybe for injury prevention if done correctly in small doses. Their ultras would benefit from more running, not faster running.

  21. tite

    I wish you were here 2 yrs ago, when I started running Ultra. Btw, list the Lavaredo Ultra Trail as the most beautiful in Europe (now 97km), and the UTMB, of course, the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc (which I ran : CCC, 100km): the best to start with::))(IF you practiced yogaforrunners, also!)

  22. Hart

    bryon, great blog topic. a coaching client of mine brought this to my attention as a point of discussion… and i have a couple of comments that i'll post separately in hopes someone actually reads mention speed work not working the right system and say "faster track work would have very little benefit to an ultrarunner." as you point out in the article, we are all strapped for time. in my experience there is no better way to improve a runners fitness than speed work. Our VO2 Max is a tell-tale sign of our level of conditioning. How quickly and efficiently we can consume and transport oxygen to working muscles, regardless of the system (aerobic vs. anaerobic) we are using, is probably the major factor in performance. so just because we are mostly aerobic as opposed to anaerobic during an ultramarathon does not mean anaerobic training, ie: speed work, doesn't have it's place in the ultrarunners log. if you don't have much time there is in fact no better way to make improvements on our ability to consume oxygen (VO2Max) than with speed work. many studies (a few links below) back this up. when compared to longer duration steady state "typical" endurance training. dr. tabata found that 8x short all out intervals of 20sec with 10sec of recovery in between was as effective as 2hrs of lower intensity endurance training at improving VO2Max numbers. seriously, 15 mins of interval work had the same effect on VO2Max as 2hrs of lower intensity. bang for buck – you can't beat interval training. i do agree the long run is the important training session in the week for the average runner trying to run their first ultra. i think runners are doing themselves a disservice if they don't take the faster road to VO2Max and fitness improvements. and that is just one of the reasons – there are many more: improve economy, pain and work tolerance, etc, etc….

  23. Hart

    one last comment on the active rehab."Actively rehabilitate with ice, heat, rest, compression, massage, drugs, as needed."i think this is great advice with the exception of drugs (but that is another post). THE biggest factor i believe is nutrition. to put it simply:training = breakdownnutrition = healing

  24. Bryon Powell

    Hart, I suppose we're closer on the drugs point than you think, unless you believe that absolutely any use of a "drug," that is a bioactive component sold as a pharmaceutical in the US is always bad.I strongly advise against regular/routine use of NSAIDs (anti-inflamatory drugs). That said, sometimes injuries need a little, very short term help other than ice and rest to control inflammation. For instance, I've got reoccurring Achilles tendonitis. I rehab, ice, stretch, etc and that's normally enough. However, sometimes I don't have access to ice (fastpacking or sometimes even camping) or the ice is not enough. In those very rare instances, I will use a topical anti-inflammatory once or twice a day for up to three days… only if inflammation is acute. It's a balance. I do agree that this is an important point and will tweak the language to make it clearer.As for nutrition, I disagree with the statement "THE biggest factor i believe is nutrition." Trying to eat reasonably healthy… sure it's a good goal. Might an optimal diet help you a bit? Sure, it might help a decently trained athlete's performance a few percentage points. (Nutrition might very well be the most important point for an overweight person, but that's got less to do with "healing" as it does with shedding extra pounds.) I can't imagine all that many Americans not getting relatively close to their nutritional needs when averaged over a few days.To be sure, I consider nutrition when training. I try to get in some carbs quickly after a shorter hard run and jack up the protein (as a vegetarian) after a quad busting workout.BTW, Hart, I'm not trying to be dismissive on either of these points. I very much value you adding your opinion. Such discussion is quite productive all around!

  25. Bryon Powell

    Hart,No doubt VO2max is an excellent predictor of any endurance sport. Lance Armstrong used to be a hell of a runner as a triathlete and Kilian Jornet can ski mountaineer and run ultras with the best of them despite professing to be a shorter distance skyrunner. Your statement, "Our VO2 Max is a tell-tale sign of our level of conditioning. How quickly and efficiently we can consume and transport oxygen to working muscles, regardless of the system (aerobic vs. anaerobic) we are using, is probably the major factor in performance." is right on. Increasing VO2max is, without a doubt, a great thing for an endurance athlete. I've looked into SIT a bit based on seeing your mention of it. It's an interesting concept that I'd love to see more study on (Read the final paragraph of my comment for more). I'll revise my post on fast speed work a bit based on your keen interjection. That said, it's not something that I'd push on a person training for their first ultramarathon. While there is certainly a middle ground, I tend to see first time ultrarunners coming from two camps: (1) long time endurance runners, such as many time marathon finishers, who are looking for something new, and (2) folks who have less than two years running experience (sometimes much less), who are quickly increasing training and racing loads without much background.In the case of the long time runner, if there goal is to complete their first ultra "reasonably well," then I think focusing on leg strength is key as they should have relatively developed cardiovascular systems.With the "new runner," I'd hesitate to have them regularly run intense intervals out of fear of injury risk.As for training philosophy, I tend to favor the strong base period followed by more intense training as the key to maximizing VO2max for a particular race, such as used by elite marathon coach Renato Canova. Problem is, I don't see all but a few ultrarunners maximizing the low intensity phase of training. Hadd, an elite coach (and character), uses the analogy of squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle of the tube if you don't maximize the base phase. Sure, you'll get quick improvements with the VO2max work… no doubt, but if that's where your initial focus is, you can peak out… well below your peak.Technical Inquiry:I'd love to see the two Burgomaster and the Tabata articles if you have them. Do you know how long it's been studied or if a significant number of elite endurance athletes are using it today? Small lab tests are great, but having seen how utterly crap they can be from my previous line of work, I remain skeptical of them. The two Burgomasters studies include a total of 32 subjects, half of which are control. That doesn't mean there isn't an interesting hypothesis that might be true, but more study might be warranted.Hart, thanks so much for bringing this up. I really appreciate it.

  26. Mary

    I have been reading ultramarathon training articles on the web, but yours is the most logical and informative, and will be my guide to training. I want a change from triathlons, including Ironman, and road, as opposed to trail, marathons. I have always liked trail running and recently did a 15k in Patagonia. Now I want to start doing 50K trail races and trail marathons. I live in NYC and decided to start with the LI Greenbelt 50K trail race. I can train there and it isn't too technical. I was also interested in the Catalina Island Eco-Marathon. Do you have any other recommendations for my first year?Mary

  27. Bryon Powell

    Mary,Thanks for your kind words. I don't think you can go wrong what ever your race selections are this year. Get out there and enjoy the trails. Use the races as motivation in your training and as a way to meet more folks in the awesome trail running community. Congrats on making the switch.Ok, so one possible suggestion for 2010. Have you considered the Finger Lakes 50k in July? If you prefer a shorter distance, check out some of the awesome races the Finger Lakes Runners put on: .

  28. Mary

    Thanks, Byron.That was an excellent link to the Finger Lakes Runners. I had been tempted to do the Red Rock 50K in Utah but think I will substitute one of the Finger Lakes 50K races for my first year and save my quads.

  29. Josh

    Great website. I learned a lot. I plan to run my first Ultra (50 miler) in June. Due to schedule restraints, how would you recommend I break up my week if I can only get in 3 runs per week? I was thinking of doing 2 medium runs with one long run every week. Anything you can help me with would be great. Thank you!

    1. Bryon Powell

      Josh, My short answer would be to do as you suggest, one long run and then two other medium long runs. Alternately, you could substitute one faster workout day for a medium long run. There are are lots of workout options including tempo work, hill work faster track stuff, and even a Tabata workout Matt Hart described above in his comment of November 26, 2009.

      1. Josh

        Thank you very much. That is kind of what I figured. I will do one medium long run, one faster day (intervals, hills, mile repeats), and one long day. Thanks again Byron and great site!!

  30. Nick

    Hi Byron:

    I am currently in law school and planning my first attempt at an ultra next fall. It's tough to fit anything in during law school, but I feel like running is one of the few things keeping me sane (either that or going to law school and wanting to run 50-100 miles proves that I am insane). I'm glad that the runs during the week aren't life or death. It seems like something always comes up that causes me to miss or shorten planned runs. Saturdays are always there though, and my dogs wouldn't let me go without taking them for a long trail run! It's inspiring to know that you did it while you were in school. It gives me hope that I can fit enough training into my crammed schedule to finish well. Thanks Byron!


  31. Allen

    I attempted my first ulta in Feb, 2010. I DNF after 60 miles. I was an ultra-virgin when I toed the line for this 100 mile event. I live in a remote area in Mexico where running & jogging is very out of place so I had no one to train with or learn from. I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to understand the dynamics of this challenge and in the end I was very satisfied with the results. I would have loved to have finished, but the knowledge acquired was worth it and I am looking forward to returning in 2011. One thing that I could never find on the internet is any real good info or even examples of refueling during a 100 mile event. I feel this lack of understanding greatly led to my not being able to complete the course. Can you help shed some light on this crucial aspect of running / completing an ultra-marathon? Thanks.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Allen, I'm sorry to hear that you weren't able to complete your first go at a 100 miles, but so long as you learned something from the experience and it was memorable, consider it a worthwhile effort.

      As for eating and ultras, I like to think that 100 mile success is found in the stomach, not the legs. Even being highly conscious of my fuel intake, I've had far more caloric problems in ultras that I've have leg-based problems.

      While this topic is certainly worth of its own article, here are a few thoughts.

      * Eat early and often. Don't think that because you can run 15 or 20 miles without eating that you should wait that long to eat in an ultra.

      * Set up a fueling schedule and stick to it! Ok, so variation is often called for during a race, but setting up a plan such as eating a gel or a 100 calories from a Blok/Chomp/Sharkie alternatives is important. This will help keep you honest when you don't want to eat.

      * Be conscious of digestion times of different foods. If you set up a fueling schedule, but vary between, say, gels and peanut butter sandwiches, you've got to be aware that fat and protein-based foods take longer to deliver energy to the blood stream. You must be aware of that and adjust accordingly.

      * Adjust your pace, not your food intake. When you start feeling nauseous, do a quick analysis of the cause. If you can correct it easily, great. If not, try to ease your pace for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, so that you are able to send more blood to your stomach to process the food and drink. It's far better to sacrifice a few minutes worth of pace in order to get in the fuel.

      * If you puke, don't panic. There's a decent chance that you'll feel a heck of a lot better afterward! Regardless, figure out a way to get back to eating and drinking as soon as possible. You've already given up XX minutes of fuel, hydration, and electrolytes. Any additional time you spend not fueling and hydrating puts you further in the hole.

      1. Allen

        Thanks Bryon,

        Your timely response speaks highly of your commitment to truly helping others and I appreciate that. True I did not finish, but I am "hooked" now. I learned a lot about my foot care, the right apparel, hydration, but what a weak link this refueling was for me. I had never even attempted a marathon, so again, getting 60 miles completed was a personal best and now I have a solid base on which to build.

        I enjoy the learning curve and try to analyze everything, so your input is extremely valuable. Can I ask you about specific types of foods & fuels to experiment with? PB&J seems like a basic, but what else can work or have you used. Is there a progression from sweet to salt, caffeine, hot foods, etc.

        Just looking for ideas of foods/fuels I can experiment with as I move towards my next attempt at 100 miles. I am sure I will have more questions later, if you don't mind.

        Thanks again,


        1. Bryon Powell

          Allen, I'd be happy to answer other nutrition question. However, I'd ask that you hold off for a week or two. You've inspired me to write a separate nutrition article. Keep your eyes open for it.


  32. Greg


    I went from couch to 50 miles in 6 months. Now I am running a 100 miler in Nov. As a practicing lawyer and father of a seven year old time is the toughest element I have. Any recommendations for training 2-3 week or is that unrealistic. The only other option I have is to get up about 3 a.m. for the long runs during the week.

    Any suggestion?



        1. Bryon Powell


          First, you've got to figure out why it is you want to run 100 miles right now. Why not savor some shorter races, even shorter ultras right now? There's no award for being the fastest from the couch to the finish of a 100, even if your lifestyle change is quite laudable.

          Second, if you've gone from the couch to 50 miles on the same schedule, then it's quite possible that you could run 100 miles. Once you build some basic running endurance and figure out both pacing and nutrition, you can go far as long as you like… it'll just be slower … and eventually less fun as you continue.

          Finally, you will need to maximize EVERY workout. Sadly, that doesn't just meaning pounding through an hour of running as hard as you can each week. If you don't find and use your long slow stride on the weekends, you'll have a difficult time running later in a 100 miler. Without knowing more about your weekday and weekend schedule, it's hard to say exactly what workouts you should do. However, getting long runs in over the weekend will be huge and, while I don't normally recommend them as such, back-to-back runs might have to be a staple in running diet.

          I hope that helps. Best of luck in your training and your 100 miler. You CAN do it.

          1. Greg

            Thanks Byron. The logical side of me knows you are absolutely correct. I just want to build off of 50 miler to run 100 miler. I suffer from the enjoyment of the struggle as opposed to the achievement. It took me all of two weeks after the 50 miler to lose that beaming sense of pride. I know inside of me I will find a way to survive the 100 miles. Plus I am raising money for another 7 year old girl who has ovarian cancer. That will push me through some dark times.

            Great website.

          2. Bryon Powell

            Greg, now THAT's a great reason to cover a 100 miles. Feel free to drop me a note if you've got any questions that don't fit this general topic. Good luck and stay strong.

  33. erockalot

    I appreciate all the information on your site, very helpful.

    I've switched to ultras from marathons. This year I have zero marathons and 4 ultras. My goal is to finish the WS100. I attempted to qualify earlier this year in a 100k but was too slow (heat and fueling). I have chosen a 50m in September which is a pretty fast course (flat). I have an established base and am interesting in increasing my pace and including speed intervals as part of my program. If the goal of a speed workout is to increase VO2max, would a hill or stairs workout be a suggestable way OR since the race course is flat (Katy50), would it be more beneficial to do a track workout? If track, what can you recommend?

    Additionally, my goal for the 50m is 11 hours. Do you have a good split reference for that pace?



  34. ahwatukee runner

    Byron –

    First, thank you for this website – it has great information. Second, I will be attempting my first 50 mile race in October 2012 at the Fall 50 in Wisconsin (close to the town where I grew up). I have run 15 marathons and run about 2 – 3 marathons a year, with the longest run before each marathon of 27 miles. I am a "Galloway method" runner, in which I alternate running 5 min. and walking 1 min. throughout the race. I have a couple of questions – will my current training regimen be sufficient for the 50 mile race? During the 50 mile race I plan to drop the running portion from 5 min. down to 1 or 2 min., but am not sure how slow to go – do you have any insight? Finally, what are your thoughts on mental preparation for an ultra? Thanks! -Ahwatukee Runner

    1. Bryon Powell

      AR, As I don't know your training regimen, I don't know if it'll be enough. You certainly have enough experience and comfort with long training runs that the transition should be easy. If you're inclined, just in a 50k first. While the training is quite similar to marathon, you'll gain a much better understanding of the issues that come up in a 50 miler. Yes, those 6 miles make a difference.

      If your goal is to finish, run at the slowest pace at which you are comfortable and fluid. I think you should be fine with a 2/1 or 3/1 run/walk ratio early. You can always change the ratio as the run goes on.

      Mental prep? Be committed to finishing. On race day, don't think about covering the full distance (aside from thinking of self-maintenance) and try to have as much fun as possible.

  35. steve

    For what it's worth….I found a 50k with 5 aid stations is like a series of short runs. In the 60 days I had to train – never having run a marathon or even half marathon – I climbed a lot of hills. My training runs were usually 8 miles with an 1800 ft climb. On race day, the distance and climbs between aid stations didn't seem that far…in fact…it was a blast! I finished in the middle of the pack at about 6:30. Don't overthink it. Train the best you can. Have fun.

  36. Jeremy Spainhour

    Ultravirgin in desperate need of advice! Can I run the Canadian Death Race with Plantar Fasciitis???!!!

    Long story short, in January my brother in-law convinced me to sign up for the Canadian Death Race (July 30–80 miles and 17,000 ft. elevation change), though the longest race I have completed was a half marathon. Yes, stupid. I know. He's my brother in-law. I can't let him show me up.

    Anyway, training has been rough. I've had issues twice with my Achilles Tendon, but eventually I seemed to break through. I then ran for my long weekend runs (Saturdays, in miles) 21, 21 (both on road), 29, 32, 35, 40 (all on trail at the Red River Gorge). While the last run was pretty miserable since I got wet feet within the first hour and by the end my feet were like leather (which resulted in a mild case of athlete's foot), I felt generally pretty good…like I could go the 80 if I had to.

    The crisis: Well, each day after the 40, I started having pain behind the ball of my left foot in the mornings, that has since spread into my arch. So I stopped running entirely and have only biked once and ran 2.5 miles to break in a new pair of trail shoes and one game of ultimate frisby. The morning pain doesn't seem to be going away. It actually feels best when I'm running (pretty much all the symptoms of PF). I got a night splint (which helped–used it for the first time last night) and also the Prostretch device, but I'm somewhat skeptical that this thing is really going to heel with the rest of the training that I will need to get in. What the heck should I do (and please don't say, "Don't run it," because that's just not going to happen…)?

    If you were in my shoes, and you "had" to run the race no matter what, how would you go about training/resting from this point forward?

    Thanks in advance!


    1. Bryon Powell

      You've gotten great long runs in. Cut back your hill work and and faster training along with a 30-50% reduction in your training volume for a little while. Go see a physical therapist… they will find your weaknesses and help you work to improve them. It doesn't sound like your PF is awful, so with some rehab you CAN run the Death Race. Again, a one time visit to a PT is a worthwhile investment. Just resting will do little to improve your situation.

      Here's a post on my own recovery from PF:… .

      1. ultravirgindeathrace

        Thanks, Bryon! That's encouraging. Last night was my second night in the night splint, and it really seems to be helping. I just read your post on your recovery, so I'll incorporate some/all of those things as well. Two quick questions: I have a pair of Sal. XT Wings 2 that I've been running in, but I just got a pair of Montrail Mountain Masochists for the flatter (relatively speaking) sections of the Death Race. I wanted to break them in this weekend. (1) Do you think they have enough support or should I go another weekend in the Salomon's? Also, I've gotten a lot of mixed thoughts on back-to-backs. A lot of people say it's better for your body than super long runs. I noticed in this article that you suggest otherwise. (2) I'm just wondering if you could provide any more explanation for this, or is it just a trial/error thing you've experienced?



  37. Becky


    So super-excited to come upon this site!! I am a marathoner ready fot he challenge of the ultramarathon! I have a goal of running an 50 Mile utramarathon in July 2012. Before that I have plans to run a 15 miles trail race next weekend, possible 50 K in Sept. and a marathon on Oct. Then comes the MN winter – my question is — what advice do you have as far as crosstraining to prepare for a 50 mile? I want to avoid injury and feel this could be key. What do you think?

  38. Daniel

    I would like to know your thoughts behind not using the Advil type anti-inflammatory products. I have read several articles who also state the same thing. Is there any science/empirical evidence behind this point of view? Thanks for the great newbie article I am surely going to revisit this weekly at the least while training for my first Ultra appearance at the Leona Divide 50, April 2012.

  39. Jas Reeves


    This is the single best jump off point for those considering jumping on the ultra bandwagon. After my ticket got punched I have referred many to iRunFar and suggested picking up a copy of Relentless Forward Progress. Back to this article, so practical and your style instills confidence. Kudos for being so willing to share and thanks for being a great example for so many.



  40. ThomasR


    I'm 52 and have spent the last 10 months building for a 50K that's now only about 8 weeks away. I'm up to running 5-6 days / 50-60 mile per week, but starting to feel like I'm never fully recovered from the previous run and getting slower and slower. Maybe this is normal, but I wondered if I might be overtraining (under-recovering). Anyway, wondered what you would say about this training pattern that has two rest days … and maybe just a little tempo running on one of the weekdays.

    I'd run about an hour 10K and hope to finish the 50K in under 7 hours if that helps.

    Thanks for all the good info!


    1. Jas Reeves


      Cheers for undertaking this endeavor. At 42 y/o I normally allow ar least two full days of rest each week. Like you I have been logging 50-60+ the last several weeks. It's not easy. One of my big rules is listening to your body. I think there is some benefit to "running tired" now and then, the idea behind the back to back long run. My last two such weekends were 15/15 and 20/12. However, repeatedly running tired is an easy recipe for an overuse injury. Plus it can beat you down mentally and take the fun out of running.

      That training schedule looks pretty user friendly. I might suggest taking a look ar your nutrition to make sure your body is getting what it needs to recover properly. There is a lifetime of experience in Bryon's book. If you haven't read it yet I highly recommend you do, an excellent read for rookie ultra runners. I'm curious to see what others have to say. Keep making progress and best of luck.

  41. Phil Jeremy

    Hy Thomas,

    Thought I'd give my bit for what its worth. Iam 56 and set out to do ultras 6 months ago. Previously I'd run 10k, three times a week for years and years.I did a 20k trail race and 2 months later a 40k marathon in the Alps 7500 feet elevation gain. (6.5 hours) I did all the recomended stuff but never did as much mileage as you. My long runs were about 30k. the race was tough but I ran it quite well. BUT, then I began training for a 60k (same elevation) and upped my training to 50-60k per week(still not as much as you)…and I felt pretty tired all the time and grumpy. 6 weeks after my 40 k I completed my 60k in 9 wasn't fun. It sounds to me like you are overtraining, take a rest and ease back a bit. After 4 hours in the 60k I was shattered and I think it was overtraining (age may be factor too). I have another 45k this weekend (same crazy elevation) and have altered my training completely (crosstrain, speedwork, tempo..and No long runs. It might be a disaster but its an experiment and if interested then check the blog;- Let us know how you get on in yours,

    Good luck


  42. dep

    Thanks for this. I've read it several times and it helps me feel better – i am very nervous about my upcoming trail ultra. I feel slow and that i don't run enough – so i re-read this to remind myself it's more likely than not that my training is up to it. Thanks for the advice.

  43. Susie


    Great information! I was wondering if anyone have any advice on how to train for a 100k road running. I have done two 50 miler on trails in the past two years. I can't seem to find a schedule online to find out how much mileage I need to do especially on back to back runs. For my 50 miler I had used the running schedule from the Santa Clarita site. The race takes place end of June.

    Right now I am averaging 80K a week.

  44. Abdoullah

    Hey Susie,

    I'm running my first ultra in a couple of weeks (it's a 100km race too) and I've been following this Runner's world plan:,7120,s6-238
    with a slight customization, usually skipping the 5 mile easy jog to accommodate my non-running cross-training (swimming, cycling or muscles strengthening)

    In terms of mileage, there is not a noticeable difference between a 50miler and a 100k race (or training). the only difference I can think of in your case would be logging more miles on road as opposed to trail to get used to race day conditions

    I hope you find it helpful, as it's been to me!

    Good luck!


  45. Susie

    Hi Abdoullah,

    Thank you so much for answering my question. Very helpful indeed.

    Where is your 100k race? How's the training so far? Well, best of luck I am sure you will do well.

    Would it be okay if you could send the excel copy?

    Here is my email:

    Thank you so much.

  46. Mel

    I have been struggling with when to work in strength training – obviously I don't want to do it on rest days, and I have found that when I do a leg w/o in the am and run in the pm my legs are still heavy/tired. I have tried subbing a really big leg w/o for a run and have had great results in the subsequent run but that is pretty tough for trying to really work up the weekly mileage. Could you please advise!

    Thank you!


  47. FuriousFurman

    Hey Bryon-

    First I absolutely love this site and check it everyday for news, races, and tips. I have found this to be the best trail and ultrarun site out there. Also cannot beat the race streams of which I followed WS100 and HR100. I also sport the irunfar hat on my runs and bring it to races for some bada** advertising. Okay here goes I need to hear some solid advice via my training for TNF DC 50 miler I have been training for coming up this June. Over the past couple years I have become so addicted to trail running and ultra and have slowly built up my distance races in order to gain entrance into the WS100 which has been my white whale. I have completed several half marathon and completed the TNF DC half last summer in Algokarian Park through Great Falls, VA. Then before having even completed a marathon I competed in the UROC this past September doing the 50K. I was scheduled to run NYC marathon in November for the American Cancer Society but it was canceled so I signed up for the NCR Trail Marathon along the North Central Railroad from Baltimore through Pennsylvania. Okay sorry long story short I did really well in the UROC 50K. I placed 19th out of 119 competitors so I was really proud of that being my first Ultra. But that being said it was also the hardest and most painful race ever. I blew out my quads probably 13 miles into the race. The first part of the race was downhill over very rocky terrible terrain and then back up 3 miles down and 3 up. After I reached the first station I felt like I had just competed in a marathon. Being a newbie I brought a 8oz amphipod with me with water then downed Gu brew and refilled my bottle with half water and half Gu brew. I downed a Gel/GU after about an hour and half of running. I did not really eat much food at the stations. and after we hit the 10 mile mark it was long downhill along mountain road. I knew then my quads were gone. I didn't know or take any S-Caps and was sweating a lot and once I tried to make my way back up another mountain road I was done at mile 17. If not for a grizzled old ultra timer who was really my lifesaver. He gave me an S-Cap and some tums and told me how to drink at the station and take in some food. I told him my quads are blown and he said take this and that and then see what you can do. I was able to muttle along for a few more miles and slowly felt better and then crushed the downhill before trekking back up the last 4 miles to the finish which I walked and ran the last 100 yards to the finish. My question what do you think happened to me? Not enough hill running (I'm in DC) not too many hills? Not enough calories?? No S-Caps bad idea? I took S-Caps with me at the trail marathon and took one per hour and gels every 30 minutes-45 minutes. I am just very nervous for this 50 miler and praying my quads don't give out again. What advice would you give? My mileage isn't as much as I want since I got really sick back to back January and February. I usually get 6 miles Monday off Tuesday or cross train, 6 miles Wednesday, Try for a long 10-12 miles Thursday, Off Friday and then hope for another long 10-13 miles Saturday and off Sunday. I know I need to be getting more consistent and each run I try for 6-7 miles and then get a really long run on the weekend like 15-16 miles. Any training ideas?? Thanks again and hoping to keep my legs strong for the TNF 50. Any advice would be great Bryon and again sorry for a long message but wanted to give you as much info as possible. All the best.

  48. Anton


    I run my first ultra, 50 miles at the end of July.Your book is very helpful but I have a question about speed work.I try to follow your plan "50 miles per week" and I'm on 10th week now.This Thursday I did 16 mins speed work in the middle of my 7miles' run.Was it what you mean? Or should I either run 7 miles OR do 15-18mins speed work?

  49. anna maria Drouin

    thank you, your comments were very inspiring. i am running my first 160, i am running long weekends, during the week i am walking the shorter distances….
    i am not too sure for the nutrition yet, i am reading so much, today i tried coconut water for the first time, it went well, next time no pulp.

    i need a schedule , i need to see the ks,

    doing my best, the weather has not been very kind, montreal has been very cold and icy this winter.
    i was wondering if you have a running plan, been to the library, many runners seem to share their experiences, no distances…merci

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