Ultimate guide to Ultra Running

You have already participated in various races. Your first 5 km, the 10 km, 10 milers, a few half-marathons, and even a handful of marathons. You can take them all off your bucket list.

Each time you enjoyed yourself with another milestone in your running career, and you look forward to taking on a new challenge. But, what is there after you have completed a marathon, to challenge yourself?

ultimate guide to ultra running

Right, the wonderful and challenging world of ultra running. The distance that goes beyond the 26.2 miles (42.16 km) of a marathon. Anything goes, from 50 km or 50 miles to 100 km or a 100 miler and sometimes even more!
Dating back to 1928 when sports promoter Charles C. Pyle organized a coast-to-coast footrace across the USA. In just over 573 hours, Andy Payne, the winner dipped his toe at the other side of the country in the ocean.
We are going to have a look at the various aspects of preparing for an ultra marathon. We will cover how to train, nutrition before and during a race, how to fit ultrarunning into your schedule, rest and recovery, mental preparation, and many more aspects!

How to fit ultra-running into your schedule

Fitting ultrarunning into your schedule can be challenging. The recommendation is to train for at least 6 months. It may well take some adjusting in your private life. A supportive and understanding partner and family can help a lot. Don’t forget to take time for family and friends, they are your supporters in achieving your goal.

How do you train for ultras?

Training for ultras needs preparation, just like with any distance. You will need to commit to your schedule, have a good training plan, and watch your nutrition intake.

Are you participating in a road or trail running race? This will make a difference in the running gear and shoes you will be using. It is also important to train on the surface you will be running at.

As an endurance runner, it is important to have the power and stamina to go the distance!

Get used to running back-to-back long distance runs once a week. Don’t forget to take recovery days, you don’t want to show up on race day, completely drained by your training efforts. Rest and recovery for ultra-runners are important. Take that rest day when you need it.

How do you set up a running schedule?

It is best to build your training plan up over a couple of months. First, lay down a base with 60 to 90 minute easy runs.

Once your base is solid, increase mileage for two weeks, and cut back for a week. Now you are ready to increase the distance again of your long runs and increase your weekly mileage. Just like your half or full marathon training plan.

Use your marathon training and trail running experience as a basis. An ultramarathon goes well beyond this, but it will make for a solid base. The mental strength you build up during marathon running will come in handy during your ultra running.

Don’t forget to include uphill and downhill training sessions. Especially downhill running can have your muscles explode during a race when you don’t need it. Make sure to practice this!

Improve your running economy with some speed training, At least once a week you should include an interval or a tempo run workout. You need endurance, but you still need some speed work to go with it. In general, though, you will find yourself most likely back running at a pace that is slower than you are used to.

A long distance runner will need to adjust to that slower pace. Your base runs will feel slower, but it will allow for easier and faster recovery. Build your runs and long runs up in such a way that over time you don’t start out too fast and slow down towards the end. Consider starting your runs at a more conservative pace.
Just keep in mind that your weekly long run is at the base of your success. You don’t want to skip or miss out on too many long runs during your ultramarathon training. Instead of running 30 miles during training, it is a much better idea to do back-to-back long runs instead. This way your body gets used to practicing running on tired legs.

Becoming an ultra runner requires you to build strength. Strength training for ultra runners is a good idea. Think along the lines of hitting weights, skill circuits including push-ups, and leg strength. You will benefit from such strength routine workouts.

Nutrition for ultra runners is important, keep this in mind. Ultra marathon running requires lots of energy, and you need to replenish this. Don’t focus too much on the correct race weight but instead, make sure you have enough strength in your muscles and body, to get through those last miles of your race.

When is your next ultra marathon?

To know the date of your next ultra marathon is important. Once you know this date, you can start setting up your ultra marathon training plan. First things first, though. Don’t forget to sign up! When signing up for an ultra – look no further than ultrasignup.com!

When that is done it is time to pull out a calendar and start mapping your road to becoming an ultra marathon runner. Set up your training plan, remind yourself to be flexible, and enjoy your build-up to race day.

Rest and recovery for ultra-runners

Rest and recovery are an important part of your long distance running. It’s a good idea to have one rest day per week. I have one rest day scheduled in my half marathon training plan. When training for an ultra race, it is even more imperative that you have one rest day per week. This will help you to prevent overtraining syndrome.

It also helps with overuse injuries, your body can heal and repair soft tissue damage, and it allows for the restoration of glycogen stores. Another thing to consider is mental burnout. Mental training is an important part of ultramarathon training. Mental toughness is asked for, but you also need to know when to take a break.

Do marathon runners lose weight?

Yes, a marathon runner does lose weight. Due to the intensity of their training plan, they burn many calories. On the other hand, you will eat more and after a 10 mile or 3-hour long run, you can easily overeat. That’s tricky, and maybe you gain weight.

A plant based diet may be something worthwhile looking into. It is becoming more and more popular and has plenty of benefits. The health of your gut might improve. You can also better absorb those nutrients from your food that reduce inflammation and support your immune system.

How long should I rest after an ultra marathon?

You should rest about two weeks after an ultra marathon. Take more rest days than usual and any recovery run you do should be at an effortless pace and relaxed. Catching up on sleep is also recommended. Your body may need it. Keep your healthy diet up and running as well. No need to stop eating healthy.

Active recovery with yoga, swimming, or walking will fit in very well.

How much recovery runners needs?

Runners need recovery at the right time and the right moment. With ultra running, a commonly used rule of thumb is to take one day off per 10 km or 10 miles of the race distance.

This will allow your body to heal itself. New blood vessels are built to the areas that are damaged, muscle fiber is repaired, and homeostasis is restored.

Do ultra runners live longer?

Ultra runners don’t die, just like old soldiers. Joking aside, at the moment evidence suggests that running in any capacity can lead to a longer life. Ultra running is no exception.

Obesity, heart diseases, and cancer effects on your body are lessened. Hence, you increase your chances for longer life. Dominic King, D.O., of Cleveland Clinic, said any type of exercise is healthy, but running is a great whole-body workout.

Walking in an ultramarathon

Are you allowed to walk during a marathon?

Walking in an ultramarathon or marathon is absolutely allowed. As long as you make it back to the finish line before the cut-off time of your race, nobody will ask how you did it. Even if you are walking the whole route.

Walking may be especially practical when during trail ultra running steep inclines are encountered. However, during ultra races on roads, plenty of people take walking breaks as well. Especially around an aid station, where food and drinks can be located, walking is common. A walk break can re-energize you. If needed, enjoy one!

What pace do ultra marathoners run?

Ultra marathoners run in general slower compared to marathoners. Up to 50 km, it seems the overall pace has dropped compared to 25 years ago. Almost 1:41 per mile more, making it a 13:16-per-mile pace.

An important item to maintain your pace is an ultra-marathon watch. Check out our in-depth article on choosing the best watch for ultra-marathons.

Is running a marathon impressive?

Running a marathon is very impressive in my book! It is an achievement, not everyone can boast of. If you finish a marathon, let alone an ultra race, you have a very valid reason to be proud. The running highs I had after passing the finish line is something nobody can ever take away from me.

Who can be a marathoner?

Anybody can theoretically be a marathoner. If you are looking for a hobby that needs lots of time and a long preparation period, pay a high signing up fee and end up anonymously at position 1573 in a big city marathon. Running is your thing!

Seriously, anyone who can find the determination and grit to go through the training schedule can be a marathoner.

Strength training for ultra runners

Performance benefits of strength training for runners?

The performance benefits of strength training for runners are numerous. Due to the intensity of your training plan, there is always the potential for injury. Strength training, on the other hand, can reduce this risk. It can improve muscle activation and correct muscle imbalances.

The efficiency of your running biomechanics is increased and ultimately this will improve your running performance.

This may well be your greatest asset in opposing the impact forces and for strong running, mile after mile. Keep in mind to avoid hitting the weights or any other strength training the day before a long run.

Ultra runners should consider doing strength blocks. Initially, you want to build up a solid strength base. Once your running volume increases, you want to start decreasing your strength training volume.

How do you train like an ultra runner?

Strength training as an ultra runner can start at your glut meds. This muscle helps to stabilize the hips. Your hip mobility is important. Hip flexor exercises are helpful. If you want to progress, look at deadlift variations, squats, lunges, and calf exercises. Planks will help your core.

Plyometric exercises are also beneficial as an endurance athlete.

Can you focus on building strength, hypertrophy, and ultramarathon training all at the same time?

Yes, you can focus on building strength, hypertrophy, and ultramarathon training at the same time. Just make sure to do this at various times of the day.

Resistance training is vital for injury prevention. It is beneficial for all runners. Strength training for ultra runners gives you extra muscle. You don’t need the abundance of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but putting some muscle on your bones will allow you to run stronger in the long run. Your upper body strength is important for being able to swing your arms in a strong cadence.

Undoubtedly, it will be a balancing act. It may be a good idea to drop mileage to below 30 miles per week for a while and concentrate on hitting weights. Build solid muscle for a few weeks, and you will come out stronger. It will prevent injury, and you even may see an increase in your pace.

Stretching and mobility for ultra runners

What exercises will make me run faster?

Exercises that will make you run faster are squats, lunges, deadlifts, speed sessions, and hill sprints, just to name a few. All excellent ultra endurance exercise options. One thing to remember is regardless of the running set or workout – always warm up for your run. (Read: How to Warm Up For a Run)

Weight training and plank variations will improve your core. You can do weight training with your body weight or added weight.

Can pilates benefit runners and help with strength and flexibility?

Pilates exercises have many health benefits for runners that can help with strength and flexibility. Doing Pilates regularly will improve flexibility. Your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips, and buttocks will strengthen and show an increase in muscle quality.

The great thing about Pilates is that it will not place your body under further stress because it is very low impact. Simultaneously you strengthen important core stabilizing muscles and help maintain good biomechanics under fatigue.

Why is mobility training for runners important?

Stretching and mobility for ultra runners are important because they will give you a reduced risk of injury. Furthermore, your overall joint health is maintained, you will have a greater sense of balance, and better movement in general. Don’t underestimate the importance of mobility exercises.

Dynamic stretching is key, keep in mind that static stretching may lead to injury, especially before a run, when your muscles are cold. Static stretching is best done after a run when your muscles are warmed up. However, dynamic stretching is preferred anytime over static stretching.

Leg swings are great for mobility training. You can stretch individual muscles, or aim for muscle groups. Once more, you want to emphasize hip mobility, since it will make you more powerful, and you can perform athletic movements more efficiently. Hip mobility skills make you more stable, improve your strength and flexibility.

Skills to check out are the Cossack squat, side box step offs, single-leg deadlifts, and Bulgarian split squats.

How far are common running race distances?

The most common ultra running race distances are anything longer than 26.2 miles. Popular distances are the 50 miles and 100 miles races, or 50 km (31 miles) and 100 km (62 miles) races.

There are longer ultra marathon races out there! The longest certified footrace in the world is the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 at 3,100 miles long. Available for your entertainment each year during summer in Queens, New York. Long distance runners galore!

Nutrition for ultra runners

How many calories do ultra runners eat?

Ultra runners should eat as a rule of thumb about 19 to 21 calories per pound of body weight for 1 – 1.5 hours of running. A Gu gel or any other brand will help you with that. Make sure to test various gels during your training. This way you will know which gel your stomach can handle, which flavor you like, and how many sachets you can eat without problems. During race day you don’t want to experiment!

What is a healthy diet for a runner?

A healthy diet for a runner before an ultra endurance event is a diet with lots of complex carbohydrates. This can be pasta, oatmeal, and potatoes, in addition to simple carbs like sugars. I cut out on as many sugars as I can. No carbonated drinks and no candy. They are too calorie rich to my liking.

My complex carbohydrate intake consists indeed of a great variation of spaghetti and potato dishes. I also eat lots of plant-based food, like veggies and fruit.

Endurance runners should strive to get 60 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrate rich food.

Can you run ultramarathons on a keto diet?

Running an ultramarathon on a keto diet is probably not a very good idea. This high fat diet lacks the carbohydrates that you need as an endurance athlete. The amount of fat in a keto diet can also cause stomach distress when running. Low carb intake is not the way to go for a long distance runner.

What marathon runners eat in a day.

What marathon runners eat in a day can be caught in these keywords; quantity, frequency, color, and whole foods.

Healthy, clean, and green are the cornerstones for a good and healthy diet. Lean protein is also important, like chicken, turkey, or completely plant based! Many ultra runners are either vegetarian or follow a plant based diet.

If you feel like snacking, make this a healthy option as well. Crackers with avocado or hummus are good options.

Hydration and electrolytes for ultra running

Do electrolyte drinks give you energy?

The electrolyte drink itself doesn’t give you energy, it’s the sugars or caffeine inside the drink that account for the energy boost. A sports drink may have lots of sugar in it, therefore it’s always worthwhile checking the label on a drink. You want to monitor your fluid intake during a long training run or race.

Besides sugars and caffeine, sodium is also an important part of electrolyte drinks. The best electrolyte comes naturally, it’s coconut water! Just as with bananas or other fruits, natural sugars are much healthier than refined sugars.

Why is electrolyte balance important for runners?

The electrolyte balance is important for runners because your body’s water balance during exercise is regulated by the electrolytes sodium and potassium. The right amount of water in your muscle cells is retained by these electrolytes. However, when we run, we sweat, and with our sweat, we lose our electrolytes. Our sweat tastes so salty because of the sodium content.

An electrolyte imbalance and sodium imbalances are something that you want to avoid in a long run. During a 5 km race, this will not be an issue but with long distance running, especially if you run in the heat, it’s very likely to become an issue if you don’t prevent it from happening. You want to keep an eye out for your sodium levels. An electrolyte drink can help you with this.

Any time you run longer than 60 minutes, you need to think about electrolytes. For an in-depth article from the experts, check out Electrolytes – the definitive guide, from runnersconnect.

How do you mix electrolyte powder?

You mix electrolyte powder typically with water. You want to experiment a bit, so you find the right amount of water making sure the taste of the electrolyte supplement is to your liking.

Ever thought about your electrolytes?

It is time to think about your electrolyte balance in your body during your long training run. If you are low on electrolytes, it can affect your body functions. Muscle contractions (cramps), fluid regulation, blood clotting, and acid balance are potentially impaired.

Even your heart is a muscle, your heartbeat is therefore regulated by electrolytes.

Mental preparation for ultra-running

How do you mentally prepare for an ultramarathon?

You can mentally prepare for an ultramarathon by setting goals and to have faith. Setting goals confirms your commitment to the training plan. Having faith in yourself and your abilities is important in order to succeed.

Meditation can help you with your breathing technique. This in turn makes running more effortless and can make a difference in maintaining your ultra marathon pace.

Try to visualize the route. Look at the elevation profile and see if you can dig up pictures or videos of the route. Last but not least, surround yourself with people who understand what you are doing and are supportive.

What is mental marathon training?

Mental marathon training taps into the psychology of running. You need to find a place in your mind, that will let you work through discomfort.

Certain routines can do this for you do. Always put on your shirt first, before you put your running watch around your arm. Whatever you do, you need to develop mental toughness for running long distances.

What percentage of running is mental?

The percentage of running that is mental varies between 90% to 50%. If it was that easy, you could stay on a couch or in bed and visualize your physical fitness growing day by day. The truth is though, that besides having a good physical shape, you need to a good mental shape as well. Marathons and ultras always have their moments when the only way to proceed is because of your mental strength.

With a DNF, your mind likely throws in the towel before your body does.

How long do I need to recover after an ultra?

To recover after an ultra takes probably at least two weeks. If you run at all during these weeks, your runs should be short and very relaxed.

The longer the race, the longer the recovery. There is deep damage that happens during an ultra, peripheral and central, and this takes much longer to heal. Taking downtime after an ultra is important.
You will have time for your family again, enjoy that!

Don’t sign up for a new ultra before you have recovered! Oh, wait, you have signed up already?


I’m a runner, a dad, a writer, just trying to help runners make better decisions. My running career started back in 2013 getting into olympic triathlons, increasing to full distance Ironmans in 2017. Through the process of run training as a hobby and trying to train the least possible to avoid injury and still compete at the Ironman distance, I’ve put years of research and testing into simple running routines and techniques. As a writer, working with coaches and experts we take their experience and provide articles to help runners at every level.

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