Running an Ultra-Marathon

Many people dream of crossing the finish line after running for several hours in a gruelling marathon. After all, this is a big-ticket item for many bucket lists. But then there are those who are even more unique, and strive to achieve the goal of crossing the finish line of an Ultra Marathon. If it is double the distance of a normal marathon (and then some), does it equate to double the euphoria after crossing the finish line? Well you’ll just have to complete one yourself to find that out.

But believe it or not, logging step after step, kilometre after kilometre, on your way to running a century is an ultimate experience. Take the Ultra Trail Australia (UTA 100) festival for example, which is held each May through the Blue Mountains. Many ultra runners throughout Australia hail this event as a must-do for the epic scenery, matched with the challenging course. Upon reaching the final destination at this event, runners are known to collapse not from exhaustion, but from a rapture of joy at the monumental feat they’ve just achieved.

Do you think you’re capable of running an ultra? If you follow these simple guidelines, you may find that you’re suitably qualified to join the revolution.

Train to the planned event!

All too often, we see runners use the same tried and true game plan for every single race, no matter the course. If it’s flat, they do the same hill runs; if it’s hilly, they do the same fartlek runs. No matter the event, they train the same way. But like any sport, we need to train our body in preparation for the opposition we’ll face. In running, the opposition just so happens to be rugged mountains, or sandy beaches, or bitumen covered flats.

As for the UTA 100, it traverses the iconic blue mountains. So, one thing’s for sure, you’re going to get altitude. Due to this, a lot of your preparation needs to take place in the hills to prepare the specific musculature for those rigours.

Train the pathways!

Just like a 5km or half marathon, you need to train each of the metabolic pathways. Just because an ultra marathon is an aerobic event, does not mean you won’t get any benefit from training the anaerobic systems.

The aerobic base is still king for this event, with training runs such as your long-mileage run taking precedent. But stimulus such as a fartlek, time trial, bounding, and hill runs will still benefit your body in preparation for an ultra. This is because the two anaerobic pathways (the phosphocreatine and anaerobic-glycolytic systems) will enable your body to adapt and use different sources of fuel, while also enabling your cells to learn how to work efficiently.

Therefore, it’s important to have you longer, slower run to build the aerobic base, but it’s also important to include a speed, strength and technique run into your regime each week. These four different run sessions are your staple running diet, and everything else should fit around those.

Do little, A LOT!

This one is fairly simple, but so many runners get it wrong. To run an ultra marathon doesn’t mean you are required to complete 50-kilometre runs 5 times each week. Your body will not cope. The premise of do little, a lot, is that you need to run smaller chunks more often.

Use the analogy of studying for a test. If we spend one huge chunk of studying for an exam, for example, 10 hours in one hit, and don’t do anything else, we’re more than likely to fail. Just ask any university student. But if you break that up into 10 one-hour blocks of the period of days, you’re more than likely going to absorb the content and pass the exam. The same goes for preparing for an ultra. You can’t head out and run 100km in one single run and then do nothing else for the week. Rather, break that into 10 x 10-kilometre runs over the space of a week. Your body will thank you for it.

Have a body maintenance plan!

Become best friends with your local physiotherapist or massage therapist, because you’ll need them! The biggest hurdle with training for an ultra marathon is managing the body and keeping it injury free. But runners are a unique bunch, where they are reactive, rather than proactive.

The key to a body maintenance plan is knowing your body and listening to it’s cues. Too often, runners will head to their physiotherapist when they’ve got a niggle, rather than being proactive and visiting their specialist at a pre-determined interval. When training for an ultra marathon, you need to be visiting a physiotherapist or massage therapist fortnightly, or weekly if possible. If this is maintained, your injury rate will be cut significantly.

So there you have it. Some simple guidelines for you to follow when you have the desire to run an ultra marathon. If you think each of those points weren’t that hard to follow, you’d be correct. All you need to mix in is some discipline, and you’ll be well on your way to scooting across the blue mountain escarpment, overjoyed that you’ve just made it through 100-kilometres.