Your Ultra-Training Bag Of Tricks: Become A Student Of The Sport

Resources for increasing one’s knowledge about trail and ultrarunning.

By on May 6, 2014 | Comments

Ultrarunning attracts a diverse group of individuals whose training philosophies are equally distinct. There are those who adhere to strict training plans and those who ‘run by feel,’ selecting their running route and effort level literally on the run. Some runners wear GPS running watches to record all kinds of data while others prefer to run without a watch. Whether our training is more regimented or more spontaneous, we all have running goals we are working to achieve. They can be as specific as wanting to win a race or as laid back as simply staying fit to enjoy time on the trails.

No matter the goal, we still share common predicaments. How far or hard should I be running? Am I injured and what do I do if I am? What kind of footwear or hydration system is best for me? What should I eat and when? Sometimes the answer is clear, however, there are many instances where it is not. In order to find the solutions we must become a student of our sport. Here’s how:

Get a Coach
It can be tough to share our training log or methodology with someone else, but working with a coach can be a worthy eye-opening experience. An impartial third party can help to better arrange your training schedule, suggest workouts that can strengthen weaknesses, propose strategies to capitalize on talents, and provide insight on nutrition, strength training, injury prevention, and goal setting. A good coach will weave your new training around your personal and professional commitments. Cost can be an issue, but even if you commit for only a few months it can be the best way to quickly identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Finding the right coach for you isn’t difficult nowadays. Search the Internet for reviews, peruse different coaches’ websites, or talk to others who already work with a coach. Once you find someone you think will be a good match, talk over email or by phone to determine if his or her attitude and training philosophy match your style.

Spend Time with a Mentor
A coach can certainly be a mentor, but let’s not forget about those ultra veterans. They are chock full of priceless ultra race course beta, training information, nutrition and hydration knowledge, and injury remedies. Most importantly they provide us with plain old inspiration. They’ve seen and done it all, so pick their brains over coffee, beer, or on a trail run.

Ultra legend David Horton took me under his wing and convinced me not to drop at the 50-mile mark of my first 100, the 1995 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run. With the wisdom of a person who has experienced and conquered the low points of an ultra countless times, he suggested I regroup, refuel, and move forward one aid station at a time. I did what he told me, and I have him to thank for my finish.

Take a Class
Taking a class can provide a deeper understanding of specific topics. Courses on distance-running physiology, sports psychology, nutrition, altitude training, and strength and conditioning are offered by:

You can also learn a lot by attending running camps or even by showing up for your local specialty running store clinics.

Build a Library
There’s nothing like holding the knowledge in your own hands. Start your own collection of information and resources. As questions arise or you find yourself drifting without direction with your running, go to your library or local bookstore for clarity. Here’s a sampling of the texts on my bookshelves and nightstand that I reference most frequently:

Training Specific

  1. You (Only Faster) by Greg McMillan
  2. Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons by Bryon Powell
  3. The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running by Adam Chase and Nancy Hobbs
  4. Lore of Running by Tim Noakes
  5. A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning edited by Don Allison
  6. Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels
  7. Better Training for Distance Runners by David Martin and Peter Coe
  8. Training for Ultra Running by Andy Milroy

Recovery/Injury Specific

  1. The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery by Sage Rountree
  2. Listen to Your Pain: The Active Person’s Guide to Understanding, Identifying, and Treating Pain and Injury by Ben E. Benjamin
  3. Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof
  4. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief by Clair Davies

Nutrition Specific

  1. Racing Weight by Matt Fitzerald
  2. The Athlete’s Plate: Real Food for High Performance by Adam Kelinson

Strengthening/Mobility Specific

  1. Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook
  2. Spinal Stabilization: The New Science of Back Pain by Rick Jemmett
  3. Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry
  4. The Whartons’ Back Book by Jim and Phil Wharton

Personal Accounts

  1. Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters With the Ultramarathon by Neal Jamison
  2. Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

Mental Components

  1. Elite Minds: Creating the Competitive Advantage by Stan Beecham
  2. Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzerald

Use the Internet
Bookmark online resources for easily searchable information on just about every running topic. Below are some of my favorite sites:

  1. iRunFar
  2. McMillan Running
  3. UltraRunning magazine
  4. Running Times magazine
  5. UltraRunnerPodcast
  6. Trail Runner Nation
  7. Competitor
  8. Trail Runner magazine

Remember that no single person or resource will ever have all the answers, especially as our sport continues to grow and evolve. However, no matter how big or small your goals may be, you can make informed decisions by consulting an array of sources, like those mentioned above.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you a student of the sport? If so, what people, coaches, books, magazines, and more have you called upon to increase your knowledge of trail and ultrarunning?
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Ian Torrence

Ian Torrence has more than 12 years of experience coaching runners of all levels. Ian has completed more than 220 ultramarathons, with 50+ wins, since his first ultra finish at the 1994 JFK 50 Mile. Ian and his wife, Emily, are online coaches at Sundog Running. Information about his coaching services can be found at