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> Ultramarathon – what it is and how to prepare for it 

Ultramarathon – what it is and how to prepare for it 

Publish date 23.12.2022

You can read it in 12 minut

Ultramarathon – what it is and how to prepare for it 

You’ve certainly heard the word “marathon” many times, but an “ultramarathon”? Ultra is associated with something more complicated and requires more strength, commitment, and effort. This is true. If you want to take part in an ultramarathon then you need to prepare not only for a lot of physical, but also mental effort. 

This type of running is for the most persistent runners who want to try to do something more challenging. For beginners, even a half-marathon can seem like a lot of effort, let alone an ultra! Therefore, first focus on properly improving your fitness and endurance. What is and how to train for an ultramarathon? This and many other interesting tips and tricks you will learn from this article. Read on! 

What is an ultramarathon?

To take the first steps (training) to prepare for this run you need to have an answer to one question: what is an ultramarathon? It is a run that is longer than a marathon. I know WOW, but there is more to it. The route always exceeds 42 km, and the standard distances are 60-120 km. Do these numbers look scary to you? Let me tell you, it’s nothing compared to the next competition! 

An ultramarathon can even be several thousand kilometers long. Yes, you read that right. Some of the longest runs (Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race and Trans Europe Foot Race) are around 5000 km. WOW, WHAT A DISTANCE! 

Now you’re probably slowly starting to imagine why you need to prepare very well for this challenge if you don’t want to finish your run after 100-200 km. However, these are distances for people who want to give their best and achieve this huge goal. Let’s come down to earth and talk about more “human” distances, i.e. 80-100 km. 

It is also necessary to talk about where such runs are most often held. These are not simple terrains: urban roads or sidewalks. Not only is the distance long, but it is most often held in mountainous and forest areas. You have to admit that this makes this run an even bigger challenge. 

Wondering how long it can take to run an ultramarathon? Most often it is at least 6h. However, some distances take 12h, 24h, or 48h to complete. Then you run for a long time, and for the evening you stop at a special place where you can eat, rest, sleep and then…continue running until the finish line. 

After this information, some of you are probably already giving up on this “ultramarathon thing”. However, for those who are motivated and want to try, I encourage you to continue reading! I will show you what it takes to run so many kilometers and reach your goal. 

Ultramarathon training – How to run during an ultramarathon? 

If you’ve done some running, you know what runner’s fatigue looks like: shortness of breath, aching legs, sore muscles, dizziness, and you may also experience runner’s stitch. These are the typical symptoms of fatigue that we most often experience. However, the situation is different for an ultramarathon. 

When you run a shorter distance, what matters to you is time. You want to overcome a certain time barrier, to achieve a good result. During an ultramarathon, you are not running for time. The most important thing is endurance. Time doesn’t matter. At such a distance, you need to know how to distribute your strength to cover the entire route. 

That’s why it’s important to have your own running pace. You don’t always have to run at the same pace all the time. Some sections are steep and hard. Then you can easily switch to marching. Also, don’t look at the people passing you. As I said before: everyone has their own pace at which they run and feel best. 

How to survive an ultramarathon

Long kilometers of running in the wilderness. What about food and drink?

You don’t have to worry about that. There are special food points along the route and places where you can fill up your water bottle. The organizers will take care of your basic needs. You certainly won’t fall from hunger or dehydration on the route. 

Ultramarathon and peace of mind 

Some people run for goals, others for medals, and others for pleasure. However, some people find this a great way to relax and get away from reality. Many hours of running in solitude in contact with nature, and fresh air (although it depends on the place, sometimes even in such places the air is not the best). 

Ultramarathon training plan – types of training 

1.Basic training 

The basic training here will be long-distance running. I don’t need to tell you why. You know the distance for an ultramarathon. People preparing for such an event run up to 6 times a week (they also need time to recover 😉 ) and finish their runs with a double-digit distance run. 

When they have more free time they go for very long, even more than 12 h training. This is a good option to prepare for such a long ultramarathon.

2.Add uphill and downhill runs 

An ultramarathon is primarily a route in mountainous and forest areas. There, there will certainly be a lot of uphill and downhill runs. This is when the legs get more tired. So if you don’t implement this element into your training, you may encounter a problem on the route. This type of exercise has a positive effect on building form and strength. Moreover, they improve coordination and shape balance. 

3.Complementary training 

Training plan for an ultramarathon? Add complimentary workouts. On them, pay attention to muscle development – this will make your endurance on the course much better. After all, that’s what ultramarathons are all about, right? About endurance. 

Add intervals or fartleks as well. Variety in training is very important. This way your body won’t get so used to training and will continue to strengthen and you will see positive results. 

4.Take care of the correct running technique

During your workouts, also make sure that you run well technically. That way you won’t waste unnecessary energy on the course. You certainly don’t want bad foot placement to end in injury. Tired legs, bad running technique, uneven terrain – this can end in injury, so you need to be careful. 

Training plan for ultramarathon – different weather conditions and routes 

You never know what can happen on the route or what the weather will be like. You can check it before the race, but you know how it is – the weather is changeable. It’s hot and in a moment there may be a thunderstorm with rain. Therefore, train in different conditions. It doesn’t matter if it’s windy, rainy, or cold. This is excellent training for an ultramarathoner. It’s better to prepare for worse conditions than to give up running because of them later. 

Also, choose different running routes – hills, climbs, rocks, mountain trails, or forest paths. Any workout is dory. After all, this is the terrain you’ll be running on during an ultramarathon. Better be prepared! 

Ultramarathon training – several years of preparation 

If you’ve made it to this section, you surely know that a few months to prepare for an ultramarathon is not enough. Only after several years of regular sports, fitness, proper diet and additional exercise will you finally be able to take part in an ultramarathon. 

Only after years will you have educated your body and prepared for this challenge. To run such a long distance you must have: 

  • a trained heart, 
  • good knowledge of your own body (know what you can do, when to stop and when to move faster). 
  • sturdy joints, muscles, and bones, 
  • high VO2max,
  • a strong psyche – you need to be positive about the challenges and motivate yourself in the difficult moments that are bound to occur along the route. 

You will only develop all this with years of exercise and training. Additionally, if you want to run at this level, start with short distances. Try running a 10k, a half marathon, or a marathon. Do everything gradually. Don’t rush, because it won’t do anything and can only lead to injury or overtraining, and running burnout. 

Set a goal of an ultramarathon in the future. This is a really big goal, also along the way add even smaller goals that you want to pursue. Completing the smaller ones will make you feel like pursuing the biggest and toughest challenge. 

Ultramarathon training plan – running alone is not enough 

Just going out to train and exercise is not enough. You need to have not only practical but also theoretical knowledge. You will be able to develop even more, and the knowledge you gain will help you to better adapt and prepare for an ultramarathon. 

Read books, and articles, watch videos and read about others’ ultramarathon experiences. This helps. Not only will you be more knowledgeable, but you will also gain extra motivation and desire to train. This knowledge will help you understand why your body behaves in a certain way, and what causes it. So reach for some interesting reading on ultramarathons! 

Health vs Ultramarathon 

Before you start preparing hard for an ultramarathon, it’s important to check for any health contraindications. That’s why it’s best to go to your doctor for a check-up. Get your overall health checked, but also how your heart is working. It is the one that plays a key role in every runner. At the cardiologist, you will see if everything is working as it should and if you can prepare for an ultramarathon without any problems. 

People who train a lot are more prone to injury – and you certainly don’t want to experience that. Exclusion from training, a decrease in the form… and all over again. Therefore, before your workouts, do a proper warm-up, after your run do stretches, run well technically, and remember to give yourself time to recover.

Training plan for an ultramarathon – choose a healthy lifestyle 

To be an ultramarathoner is a really big challenge and… sacrifice. You need to add a proper diet to your life and start living a healthy life. Take care of your diet so that it has all the essential ingredients you need to build and strengthen your bones, muscles, and joints.

You also need to make sure you quit smoking (if you do) to have better conditions. In addition, balance your meals so that they provide all the necessary micro and macronutrients. And finally, make sure you get the right amount of sleep. People are sleeping less and less, sitting up late at night in front of the TV or laptop, and then waking up for work at 6. Try to get 8h of sleep.

Apply all these points to your life, and it will also translate into your fitness, stamina, and better well-being.  

Remember, that being a real runner is not only about training and long running routes but also about introducing a healthy lifestyle. 

How to prepare for an ultramarathon – eating during the competition 

Not only does your body need to be in good shape if you want to run an ultramarathon, but you also need to know what you can eat while running. 

“But I can’t eat anything. I don’t eat during the run.”

This is a mistake, during such a grueling run you must eat something. When you are on the route, running consumes a large amount of energy. You won’t have it indefinitely. You need to add to it – that’s why you need to eat something. 

Start training your stomach beforehand and see what would be a good snack while running. It happens that the body reacts badly to some products. You certainly don’t want to have digestive problems during competitions. 

Therefore, before an ultramarathon, test what you can eat – bet on different snacks. By observing your body, you will know after a while what is best, when, and how to consume so that you feel great during the long run. 

What is most important during an ultramarathon – what to eat?

On runs up to 42 kilometers, carbohydrates are the most important. They are what give you the energy to run further. That’s why it’s a good idea to test different sugary snacks and choose the ones that your stomach responds best to. 

For longer distances, your nutrition should also include fats and protein. 

You need to eat to have energy. In addition, through hunger and lack of proper ingredients in your body, you may feel weak during a run or even faint. This is certainly not something you want to lead to, right?

However, not by snacks alone does an ultramarathoner live. After several hours of running, you will eventually need to eat something later. That’s why there are many food points along the running route, where you can consume a suitable dish. You will already know what to choose so as not to have a revolution in your stomach. 

Ultramarathon – what is essential? 

The necessary items will vary depending on the length, weather conditions, and terrain of the run. 

Appropriate clothing is unlikely to need reminding, but one element, in particular, is essential. The most important is comfortable athletic shoes that will allow you to comfortably cover the designated kilometers. Next are rain clothes and a flashlight with spare batteries – when it comes to the weather you never know, so it’s always good to have a raincoat. A flashlight will come in handy if you know you’ll be running at night. 

Also, take a small backpack with food and water. On that note, it’s a good idea to start running with a backpack on your back early on to get used to the extra load. 

Ultramarathon training – not only physical strength 

You need not only good physical strength to complete this murderous distance, but also mental strength. You need to prepare for many challenges – after all, such a run is not easy peasy lemon squeezy

Before an ultramarathon – during training, you can experience a breakdown. Especially when you don’t have the strength to exercise, experience a drop in form, or have an injury. These factors can affect your mood and self-confidence. This is where the support of family and friends is essential. They will be able to say a few kind words and pull you out of the hole. 

During an ultramarathon – you are doomed only to your own company. Many hours without music, or access to entertainment. Just you and nature. You have to learn how to spend this time alone. What’s more, while running you may have mental crises. In particular, when you feel a sharp burning in your muscles and fatigue when you no longer have the strength to continue running. At this point, a strong mentality is important. You need to tell yourself that you can do it. 

It’s important not to think about the run as a whole (because that can overwhelm you even more) – think in stages

“I have 10 km left to the food point,” “I have 5 km left to finish the first stage”.

If you think “I have 2450 km left” then, this will not help you get through the difficult moments. Build up your confidence and psyche, and don’t let yourself down. This is very important, especially when you have no one around to support you. 

That’s all I have to share with you about the ultramarathon. Now you can calmly start preparing for it. If you want to create a training plan it’s best to do it with the help of a specialist, who will tell you how much, when, and how to train. At the very end, let’s summarize everything very briefly:

  • An ultramarathon is a run that is more than 42 kilometers long and can reach a distance of up to 5,000 kilometers. 
  • During the competition, run at your own leisurely pace, you can switch to marching on the more difficult parts – here it is endurance and not time that matters.
  • Train not only long runs but also add: uphill and downhill runs, strengthening exercises, and shaping a good running technique. 
  • Run in different weather and on varied terrain. 
  • You will be preparing for an ultramarathon for months or even years – take it easy to get to your dream form and goal. 
  • Introduce a proper diet and balanced foods into your life.
  • Do your research and see if there are any health contraindications to participating in an ultramarathon. 
  • Try out different snacks and meals – find out what you can and cannot eat while training. 
  • Train not only physically, but also take care of your psyche. 

In the end, I can only wish you good luck and perseverance in your goal. Don’t give up!

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