Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Simple Ultramarathon Training Plan – Enjoy your training without it taking over your life

As promised here is my take on a loose training plan which will help you not only reach the start line of an Ultramarathon (an achievement in itself) but also get to the finish line. I’m working towards events in the 100kms and 100mile category, so if your goals are geared toward different distances you can adjust your training accordingly.

As discussed in yesterdays post (Ultra Running Training - The importance of setting goals and how to achieve them) you need to have goals for your running, so that you can tailor your training in order to achieve them. Given the vast variety of events in the world of ultra marathons (trails, roads, treadmills, 24 hour, multi-day, hills, running tracks, etc) there are hundreds of different training programs to choose from. However, most of the training schedules I’ve seen tend to be those adopted by the ultrarunning elite, or require you to have about 8 hours a day available for your training sessions. There also seems to be a very high focus on your total weekly mileage, and little acknowledgement of the type and quality of your sessions (other than the highpoint of everyone’s weekend, the Long Slow Distance run – we all love a bit of LSD!).

I’m not totally convinced by this obsession with weekly distance in your training. Obviously you have to do some long training runs, but what I find when I do much longer training runs (4 hours plus) or when I increase my total mileage, I tend to feel physically tired all the time, and the quality of my subsequent training sessions drops off. As previously discussed my best sessions are usually after a break, effectively a taper period where you body has a chance to recharge and you will have carbohydrate loaded by burning less energy in your normal daily activities.

In the build up to the North Face 100 which I completed in 15th May, my training was disrupted by a 4 week trip overseas. This was 8 weeks before the race, and during that period I only managed a few runs with weekly totals of 20, 22, 27, and 29 Kilometres (approximately 15miles a week average). Really at this point, according to all the training plans I should have been doing my maximum training distances. I did follow this period up with a total of 170kms over the next two weeks, before a 2 week taper.

The race went really well for me, feeling stronger than ever and there was never a time when I felt that I was undertrained. On reviewing the weeks prior to this break I was only averaging around 60kms a week, between the Christmas holidays and the overseas trip.

If you look at the text book training recommendations, given my training I should have struggled to get around in 24hours, and instead crossed the line in 13hours 26 mins.

I put this down to the quality of the training I had done.

I have tried to give my training plan a little more structure now, as I am working towards two 100mile races later in the year, but the overall philosophy is the same. The LSD run on the weekend will stay, and during the peak of my training I will back up two such runs over a weekend, to stress the body to get used to running tired (a familiar feeling when you’re out for 24hours and more). In these sessions I will walk the hills, take pit stops, and just enjoy being out there – basically simulating how you would perform in a race but without the intensity.

Midweek sessions will consist of 2-3 runs of about 1.5-2 hours in duration, and will be on a similar surface to that you plan to race on. In my case these are trails and hilly ones too! I will cover the joys and benefits of trail running in future posts, could go on for hours on that one.

Vary the intensity of the midweek runs, and always include one hard hill session, the benefits of which cover strength, endurance, form, cardio, and psychology. Remember you gain benefit on the downhills as well as the up, make full use of the session.

As an example I’ve used a long set of steps which took about 2 minutes to run up, and the same back down. I would run 6 reps and make sure that the first was as fast as the last. The following week I would run 7 reps, then 8 reps, up to 10 reps. A really good session, as you get a lot of benefit in a relatively short space of time.

So this leaves a couple of days in the week and one on the weekend (the rest day). In the spare week days I would do 1 or 2 circuit style sessions. One strength and endurance focused the other more specialist exercises to help maintain form, improve balance, core strength and stretching. Most of these exercises are those that I was given when going through a long period of physiotherapy which I used to overcome injury and to change my running gait to avoid future injury.

So in essence that is the training week according to Andy Bowen. There is one more thing that I have left out, and that is that you should be really flexible with this program. Provided the sessions you do are of a good quality, then you could easily drop one of these days each week for more rest – just listen to your body. It needs to recover, and we all have busy lives, so there is no point stressing yourself out if you miss a session, that will do more harm than good.
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on my program.

Here is today’s training run for me. The main observation from today was a higher than normal heart rate during the run. Clearly I am still recovering from the 100km race 17 days ago. I drank 1litre water, 600ml Endura, had a salt tab, and half a cheese spread sandwich at the top of the hill (my secret source of power!).

Living in Noosa I’ve just heard today that the website to register for the Noosa Triathalon had a meltdown today as thousands tried to sign up within minutes of it opening. It’s great to see so many people keen to get out there and give it a go, while the marketers continualy push new plasma screen TVs and Playstations to us to keep us inside. Not us though...

Happy Running!


“Training to run 100miles, is like training to be hit by a truck” – Luis Escobar


  1. Hi Andy, I'm Kristen. I saw your blog while searching for VFF100 Hong Kong and I started readiing your blog, starting from your first blog. It is my 'story book' to read before I go work and before I sleep. Thank you for sharing all these informations! :) I will start training with your program and pray that it will work for me, thank you again! Have a nice day

  2. Hi Kristen
    Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you find this useful. Training for an Ultra is an ongoing learning experience, as you're body adapts you change you training to suit your needs. Just remember that training is not meant to be comfortable (else it wouldn't be training!) and that you must listen to your body so as not to over train or get injured.
    Have fun