How to Approach a First Ultra?
Long-distance races can sometimes feel daunting, but one step at a time is often a great way to look at them. We have broken down the 3 main phases to tackle before a new objective such as an ultra.
- General Training: This phase can begin long before the event (>6 months) and can last as long as necessary. It generally includes building up volume, working on weaknesses from past seasons, and preventing possible injuries. By the end of this phase, your body should be prepared to take on higher-intensity workouts.
- Intensity Training: Now that a volume buildup has been done, this phase aims to give your aerobic system a boost. Depending on the race, you may see benefits in including threshold or VO2max sessions into your training. This phase usually lasts 1-3 months.
- Specific Training: This phase is where the fun begins! Closer to your race, you will want to mimic its traits (elevation, environment, terrain, etc.) during your workouts. This phase is highly beneficial in creating muscle memory and preventing fatigue over time. Aim to spend the last 1-3 months in this phase.
How to best mimic the race’s elevation gain?Use this simple formula [Total Elevation Gain (m or ft) / Distance (km or mile)] to get your race ratio. If UTMB is 171km and 10,000m of gain, the race has a ratio of 58m/km. During your specific phase, aim to get this given ratio for most of your workouts. If you have a 10km run scheduled, aim for 580m of gain to get that ratio. This will simulate similar grades and muscle patterns beforehand.
Recently coming back from multiple injuries, this athlete is wondering how to best approach their ultra training for their first 50k trail race in the summer.
Training-Related QuestionHow should I schedule training for my first ultra marathon?
As this athlete is training for a race in June, we have separated the remaining 6 months into our 3 main phases explained above.
As the athlete is coming back from an injury, the main focus of this phase is to strengthen their tendons and build up easy volume in preparation for phase 2. Some key workouts would include:
Is strength training really valuable?Running is a highly repetitive movement pattern. Tendons are shortened and lengthened the same way over and over again. Therefore, some parts are getting stronger while other parts weakened. Strength sessions allow for stronger overall structures. This being said, you would want to slowly fade away from those sessions as you get closer to the race to keep training as specific as possible.
Given the athlete’s injury history and lack of training time, it would be more beneficial to do threshold sessions (longer, less intense) than VO2max (shorter, higher-intensity bursts) for this race. Key workouts would include:
With the race’s ratio determined at 60m/km, it is time to wear all mandatory gear and reproduce the race’s environment during sessions. While we should aim to touch base on intensity still, some key workouts would then include:
Should walking be part of ultra training?Depending on the race, walking will cover a considerable amount of time during your race. Therefore, make sure to include some walking bouts in various terrains and inclines throughout training during your specific phase! Even though you may not feel the same training effect, it will have a positive adaptation to your biomechanical walking pattern and fatigue resistance!
If you would like your own training questions answered, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to share insights!
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