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Maybe your friends think you’re crazy for wanting to run an ultra-marathon. I say you should be proud of yourself for doing your best to overcome your limits, being courageous, and becoming stronger.
The following tips on how to train for an ultra-marathon will even work for those of you who want to complete a mega-race but don’t have a lot of motivation. So, fear not my dear sofa lovers because these methods are also tailored to your needs. There isn’t only one correct way to train and get ready for a long run so I have come up with several types of training that will allow you to be in a good mental and physical shape for the big event.
- 1 A. Physical Training
- 1.1 1. Cross Training
- 1.2 Cross-Training Tips
- 1.3 2. Weight Training
- 1.4 Push-Ups – for the Upper Body – 3 sets (15 reps each)
- 1.5 Leg Raises (3 sets – 10 reps each) and Planks (3 sets of 30-60 seconds each) – for the Core Area
- 1.6 Lunges – for the Lower Body – 3 sets (8-12 reps each)
- 1.7 3. Speedwork
- 1.8 Striders
- 1.9 Fartleks
- 1.10 Tempo Runs
- 1.11 Interval Workouts
- 1.12 Hill Repeats
- 1.13 Track Workouts
- 2 B. Mental Training
- 3 C. Nutrition and Hydration
- 4 Final Thoughts
A. Physical Training
1. Cross Training
There are several effective cross-training exercises that runners should consider trying:
- Cycling – this exercise uses all the main muscles in your legs and it also works your cardiovascular system;
- Elliptical – besides power walking and jogging, elliptical activities also mimic running in a great way but make sure to use the elliptical device at a higher intensity level in order to elevate your heart rate and get yourself sweating;
- Swimming – this is one of the most effective weight-free cross-training exercises that will prepare your body for an ultra-marathon because it provides you with a complete body workout;
- Power walking – power walking is the younger sibling of running because it is done at a lower intensity level but it comes with plenty of benefits such as working and engaging all your muscles.
- Create your own daily or weekly cross-training workout routine that suits your needs, schedule, and preferences. Try to maintain a normal pace and intensity level which means that both under and over-training are not recommended;
- The most effective cross-training activities are those that mimic running. You can also go for certain aerobic workouts that engage your cardiovascular system in a way that’s similar to running;
- Use a device that monitors your heart rate to keep track of the effort that your organism goes through during a jogging or cross-training session. This way, you will make the most of the exercise;
- If your body is prone to injuries, you should replace one quarter of your running sessions with cross-training workouts.
2. Weight Training
Push-Ups – for the Upper Body – 3 sets (15 reps each)
Push-ups work your core and chest muscles. Initiate this exercise from a high plank position while keeping the wrists right under your shoulders. Engage the core area until the body is aligned into a straight line. Bend the elbows until your chest gets lowers, closer to the floor and then push through your palms to raise your upper body back up. Keep your abs tight during the entire exercise and don’t dip the hips. Advanced athletes can also use a weighted plate placed on their back to increase the intensity of this movement.
Leg Raises (3 sets – 10 reps each) and Planks (3 sets of 30-60 seconds each) – for the Core Area
Leg raises will work the lower abdominal muscles while the planks engage all your core muscles. For the leg raises you must lie down facing up towards the ceiling with your upper body (back, head, and shoulders pressed into the mat). Place both hands next to your torso or under your buttocks to provide support for your hips. Keep your legs straight as you raise them up until they form a 90-degree angle with your torso. Basically, your entire body should form the letter L. Slowly lower them down and repeat the movement 10 times.
For the plank exercise, you must align your hands with your shoulders and press your palms into the mat. Squeeze the glutes and engage your core to offer stability to your body. Both your back and neck should remain neutral. Hold the position for 30 seconds, if you are a beginner. More experienced individuals should be able to maintain a plank for up to one whole minute.
Lunges – for the Lower Body – 3 sets (8-12 reps each)
I must confess that lunges are not really my cup of tea and I find them quite challenging but they are very effective when it comes to working your leg muscles. In fact, lunges will engage your quads, glutes, and all the major leg muscles. Stand tall and, with your right foot, step forward while lowering your body until your right knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Press into the heel to go back up and repeat the move with your other leg. To make this exercise even more effective, you should hold dumbbells in both hands.
During strength training, avoid lifting too much weight and don’t rely only on stability exercises such as wobble boards or Bosu balls. Moreover, feel free to benefit from using specific weight-training tools like medicine balls, resistance bands, and foam rollers.
These routines are short sprints that one can do to prepare the body before a run. They will wake up your muscles but you must do these sprints little by little and give your body some time to adjust. All speed workouts, including striders, increase your endurance. Both your mechanics and form will get better. Striders are best done either before a workout or at the end of your exercising routine. You should know that striders are actually brief accelerations. You start slowly, then quickly increase your speed, and finish by slowing down again.
This word comes from Swedish and it means “speed play.” These are unstructured exercises during which you are able to play with the speed level the way you want. Warm up and then increase your speed at a medium level. Quickly after that, try to reach a maximum speed level followed by a cool-down.
Tempo refers to either a certain period of time or a specific distance. All you have to do is choose one of those measurement factors to keep track of your performance and then run at your own pace. If you can, it is recommended to run a bit above your usual running pace.
Interval workouts come with rest periods between each set of repetitions. For instance, let’s say you run for 8 miles and then rest for 4 minutes. However, the break is an active one so make sure you walk or jog during it. Also, feel free to adjust these exercises depending on how your body feels. Another important aspect is to do warm-ups before the workout and cool-downs once the routine is completed.
Uphill workouts will strengthen your body and make you faster. Together with fartleks, these exercises are an effective and somewhat smooth transition before you try other more complex routines. Go up the hill at a moderate pace for up to one minute. Afterwards, you can lightly jog or even speed walk down the hill. This second movement will allow your muscles to rest and recover.
Track workouts are a form of interval training and they represent a precise method that can help you keep track of your speed abilities in an accurate manner. They resemble fartleks a bit and performing these exercises will let you know whether or not your body is fully ready to complete an ultra-marathon.
B. Mental Training
1. Visualize the Difficult Parts
Don’t start to worry about how you will manage to complete the race or how much you will struggle along the way. If you stress out, your body will lose its edge and motivation, and it will even perform poorly during both the training sessions and the actual ultra-marathon. Instead, what you should do is take action. For instance, if the marathon will be organized in your areas, go ahead and run those parts that seem the hardest.
If you don’t have time to go to the location where the race will take place, don’t fret because you can still survey those tricky sections by using Google maps. The secret is paying a closer attention to detail. Become more aware of the surroundings.
2. Participate in an Ultra-Marathon for all the Right Reasons
You should never link how well you’re doing during a race to your self-worth. Sadly, many people make this mistake. Success isn’t always measured by completing a marathon in a certain time. Doing so will only put a lot of destructive pressure on your right from the start. Once you begin your training period, establish self-fulfilling goals instead of results-based ones. For example, you could want to improve your body strength, endurance, or simply challenge yourself.
Another great reason is running for a good cause. Still, this can also stress you out if you run in someone’s honor and you are afraid that you’ll disappoint that person by not finishing the marathon in due time. Here’s what you should think instead: you are already honoring that individual by showing up and doing the best you can.
3. Use Meditation and Mindfulness
Mindfulness techniques will help you stay focused and connected in the present moment which represents an important aspect of any successful race and performance. Meditation lowers the impact of negative distractions and shifts your thoughts towards a more positive way of thinking, not to mention it calms you down and relaxes your body and mind. However, if you’re not accustomed to meditation, it can be a bit tricky at first because clearing your mind takes practice. Try to sit in a comfortable position, in a quiet room, and breathe deeply while focusing on your breath.
C. Nutrition and Hydration
Before long runs such as ultra-marathons, you must nourish your organism with low-glycemic carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of protein. All these elements will fuel your body and prepare it for the race.
- Turn to unprocessed foods – consume nutritious and heart-healthy foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains;
- Eat several small meals throughout the course of a day – consuming only three main meals each day won’t do the trick for runners. Instead, they should eat more meals per day but in smaller portions. After all, runners need a higher calorie intake than the average person;
- Replenish your carb storage by consuming pasta, rice, quinoa, or even couscous. A number of veggies and fruits also contain a pretty decent amount of carbs: bananas, pineapple, apples, pears, beetroots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, oranges, squash, etc.;
- Although you will focus on eating more carbs, you shouldn’t forget to consume enough protein which is used by your body cells to repair muscle tissue. Good and healthy protein sources are poultry, fish, beans, whole grains, low-fat cheese, nuts, etc.
- A few days before the big run, you should increase your daily water intake in order to stay well-hydrated. Stick to water and avoid alcoholic drinks (alcohol will only dehydrate you and it will also prevent you from getting a good-quality sleep);
- A good pre-hydration will help you run faster. So, make sure to gulp down 8-16 ounces of water, a couple of hours before the marathon;
- Both water and sports drinks are good hydration alternatives;
- Small amounts of ice tea or coffee are also welcomed;
- Right before the race (30-50 minutes), drink a minimum of 4-8 ounces of liquids.
There are three things to accomplish if you want to go through a successful ultra-marathon:
- Finish it in a decent amount of time;
- Avoid getting injured;
- Enjoy the experience and have fun doing this activity.
I can almost guarantee you that, if you follow the tips presented in this article, you will check all these three goals listed above.
Training for an ultra-marathon is pretty challenging but if you do it well, this entire experience will become a satisfying and rewarding one. After all, it doesn’t rocket science but it’s true that you will need a lot of motivation, perseverance, and discipline. Therefore, I hope that all the guidelines provided above will come in handy for when you want to prepare yourself for a long race.