Whether you’ve signed up for your first 50K or you’re building up to a 100 mile ultramarathon, the training principles that will prepare you for race day are the same. Your training program should not be built off the strategy of “just go run more.” Ultramarathon training has evolved to become much more structured and effective.
The five essential ultrarunning workouts described below will help you accumulate time at intensity and target specific areas of your fitness allowing you to be much more effective with your training time and show up ready for the demands of your next ultra.
When implementing these workouts into your training program, you’ll want to keep the following three principles in mind:
Ultramarathon Training Principle #1
Develop the physiology that is most specific to your event closest to that event, and develop the least specific physiology furthest away.
For many ultramarathons, because of the duration and relatively low intensity of the events, the progression of training phases will start with RunningIntervals, then move on to TempoRuns, and end with SteadyStateRuns. Take the Hardrock 100 as an example of this in practice. Other than the notorious lightning on course, there’s no high-intensity to be had while running Hardrock. Most if not all the runners will end up hiking large portions of the uphills, which is why in the last few weeks leading up to the race runners will incorporate race specific SteadyStateRuns and hiking into their training.
Ultramarathon Training Principle #2
At some point in the season, incorporate each of these three critical workouts: SteadyStateRun, TempoRun, and RunningIntervals.
Why do I need to train at such high intensities if I’m going to be running at such a slow pace in my race? It’s important to train all the various intensities because they build off of each other throughout the year, allowing you to achieve better fitness. If you just go around running endurance pace day after day, you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns and your fitness progression will slow. While it depends greatly on an athlete’s rate of adaptation and time leading up to an event, most runners will spend 4-8 weeks focusing on each one of these critical workouts while taking a reduced volume/intensity recovery week every fourth week. In the ultramarathon world, runners usually will only spend 3-4 weeks focusing on RunningIntervals because they are the least specific workout and deliver the necessary benefits quickly.
Ultramarathon Training Principle #3
Work strengths closer to the race and weaknesses further away.
If you’re not a great technical runner but can out climb all of your friends on the uphills, focus on incorporating technical skills into your training early on in your program and come back to your climbing strength in the lead up to your race.
The 5 Key Ultrarunning Workouts
A RecoveryRun needs to be very easy and should not be more than 60 minutes. Keep the name and goal of this workout in mind! You’re just aiming to loosen up your legs and increase circulation to promote recovery before your next key workout. Perceived exertion (RPE) is about a 4 or 5 out of 10, which should be considerably easier than your EnduranceRun pace.
This is your “forever” intensity and where you’ll spend much of the training time surrounding your focused interval training. Perceived exertion for this intensity is 5 or 6 with workout durations ranging from 30 minutes to more than 6 hours. It’s important to keep in mind that you’ll need to vary your pace depending on the terrain to avoid turning an EnduranceRun into a SteadyStateRun or TempoRun on the uphills. On steep inclines this may even mean hiking instead of running.
A SteadyStateRun workout will push you to a pace that is challenging and above your EnduranceRun pace. Training this intensity is important to developing a stronger aerobic engine that will allow you maintain a higher pace in your event. The perceived exertion for a SteadyStateRun interval is 7, with individual intervals ranging from 20 to 60 minutes and total time at intensity for a single workout ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
TempoRuns are by no means easy but they are critical to becoming a stronger and faster ultrarunner. These intervals will having you running at or just below your lactate threshold intensity which means a perceived exertion of 8 or 9 out of 10. When you’re doing these intervals properly, you’ll only be able to run intervals of 8 to 20 minutes with a 2-to-1 recovery period ratio between intervals - 4 minute recovery between an 8 minute interval. The maximum amount of accumulated intensity time for a single TempoRun workout is one hour. If you try to exceed this, you’ll slow down and comprise your effort.
Most ultrarunners balk when they first hear about this workout, but quickly have a change of heart after they feel the benefits they reap after a block of this training. RunningIntervals are VO2max efforts lasting 1 to 3 minutes with a 1:1 recovery period ratio and total workload of 12 to 24 minutes. The perceived exertion for these intervals is 10 out of 10 - essentially as hard as you can go for the duration of the interval. However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t bolt out of the gate like it’s a sprint. The goal is to maximize your cardiovascular system, not fatigue your skeletal muscles before you ever hit your VO2Max. Many runners find it helpful to perform these intervals on an uphill making it “easier” to reach the correct intensity.
Download The 5 Key Ultrarunning Workouts Graphic
Enter your email address below to get the 5 ultrarunning workouts graphic with example workouts and recommended intervals for the different workouts.