How to Train for an Ultramarathon – A Beginners Guide

Ultramarathon training guide

An ultra-marathon is defined as any race longer than the classic marathon distance of 26.2 miles. They vary greatly in length (some are over 100 miles) but there are many ultra-marathons in the 30-50 mile range if you want to give one a try.

If you want to run a marathon, you need to be ready for one of the toughest things you can put your body through – with the right training, a marathon will be a great experience.

The key to running a marathon is to know what you’re doing – that means not only training, but training the right way. If you’re serious about running a marathon, like the ones in this list of Extreme Mountain Marathons, you will need to properly prepare.

Here’s how to prepare for an Ultramarathon.

Prepare Before You Prepare

One of the key elements of training for a marathon is sticking to your training schedule, and we’ll get to that. But there’s something you need to do before you even start your schedule, and that’s getting your base mileage up.

It’s very hard to go from running 0 miles to training for a marathon the way that you’re supposed to; instead, you should get used to running a certain amount every week, like 20 or 25 miles over a few days.

That way, it’ll be far less likely you get injured when you eventually put yourself into the grueling grind of preparing for the actual race, and you’ll also need far less time to adjust to the new strains.

Eat And Drink Well

Running a marathon is more than a commitment to just exercising a certain number of times per week. It also involves potentially changing the way you live, to some extent.

The first way to do that is by being alert to what you eat and drink. Marathon training requires a tremendous number of calories and a large strain on your body’s ability to stay hydrated, and you have to respect that throughout the training process.

That means regular carbohydrates and protein intake to replenish what your body uses up during training; it also means frequent water drinking, particular before and after runs, and access to fluids during your long runs.

And it also means that you probably shouldn’t have many alcoholic drinks the night before a run, if any, or a huge burger and fries; these are things that essentially sabotage your own body. It’s got enough to worry about just running the miles.

Too many athletes focus on training then hammer their bodies with terrible food. If you train hard then guzzle a string of sodas and a plump, gungy pizza, you may just undo all your hard stamina-building work. In any sporting arena, it is all too pitifully apparent that competitors carrying a few extra pounds lack staying power.

You probably have a pretty good idea of what you should eat, but program yourself. Embed the habit of eating the right stuff. Think of the complex carbohydrates offered by unrefined bread, unrefined pasta and brown rice.

Think of the protein contained by lean cuts of meat and soya, nuts and eggs – three-egg vegetarian omelette anyone? Bananas are also great – reputed to be one of the fastest energy boosts you can get.

A coffee too can be good to get you going. And do not forget water – we are made of water, so water is a crucial component in your diet. Devour the stuff if you can. Looking for two surprising superfoods? Try out beetroot juice and grapes. Think beetroot juice tastes horrible?

Get over it because beetroot juice, which abounds in vitamin A and C, has been proven to improve stamina. And go for grapes because, besides containing energy boosting sugar, grapes are laced with a chemical called “resveratrol”. Resveratrol is a fascinating substance almost worthy of a post of its own.

Let’s just say that resveratrol is widely believed to slash “bad” cholesterol, thwart blood clots and generally keep you in good running condition. What more excuse do you need for a glass of tasty grape juice or red wine that will relax and prepare you for rest.

Hill running

If you really want to kick your fitness up to the ultra level, hill running is a brutal but effective solution. The reason is simple – you are constantly grappling with a formidable adversary, gravity, which puts intense added strain on your heart, lungs and muscles.

Cue buckets of sweat. But turn the hard task into a habit and you are bound to turbocharge your stamina. Hill running works – that’s why one of the world’s top fighting forces, the French Foreign Legion, places a heavy emphasis on running up inclines. Increase the intensity by upgrading to a steeper hill or carrying a backpack stuffed with rocks.

Then, especially if the sun is blazing, you will know how it feels to test yourself. Hill running is not for the faint-hearted. But it near guarantees a good cardio and lower body workout and a sense of achievement – you have crested a hill. No matter how many you brave, it always takes grit.

Resist the temptation to treat the downslope as a breeze – a reward for your uphill slog. Stay in control of your footfalls – no slapping the ground. Tread lightly and then, when the next hill rolls up, attack it – don’t let it set the agenda because you are a master of gravity.

Altitude training

High-altitude training is different from hill running – it means making the effort to travel somewhere lofty – about 8,000 ft. above sea level where the air is thin. That means you have to work that much harder to breathe enough oxygen, testing your body and helping boost your running stamina.

The pain works heavily in your favor, as evidenced by the stellar success of runners from high-altitude countries like Kenya. Kenyan long-distance runners are renowned for their ability to canter countless kilometers and dominate the racetrack.

Altitude training has its roots in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where runners competed at about 7,000 ft. Endurance competitors, who were not primed for the testing conditions, tanked, notching up times well below world records. If you want to gain the full benefits of altitude training, it helps if you go all in– and actually move somewhere elevated.

That way, even when you’re just hanging out, you will be marginally improving your capacity to breathe. After sustained altitude training, when you pursue a sport in a setting at a normal height, you should have the extra stamina to stay ahead of the field.

Allow Yourself To Recover

A trap that many new runners fall into when they’re training for their first marathon is that they actually train too much. It’s surprisingly easy to do so; you’re excited, and you want to make sure your body is in peak physical form before you undertake the actual marathon.

But there’s a reason that plans are designed the way they are: your body can just as easily break down under the stress of the training as it can be undertrained for the eventual race.

That means you need to make sure you stick to your plan even if you’re feeling great, and that you don’t try and push yourself through injuries and potential pain.

Don’t forget the final key ingredient in building stamina for running a marathon: sound sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of shut-eye to recuperate.

Skimp on sleep and your performance will drop dramatically. So make a strenuous effort to relax and get your rest.

Pick An Appropriate Training Schedule

There isn’t one right way to prep for a marathon, because there isn’t one kind of runner. Some people who have already run a few marathons and know what they’re doing can go out and run a ton of miles in advance of the race, hoping to beat their previous time.

Others just want to finish. And there are different ways of training for each type of runner, involving different amounts of mileage in advance of the race, a different number of times running per week, and different types of workouts mixed in.

Be sure not to try and overextend yourself in the training plan you pick — if you’re a beginner, there’s nothing wrong with running a beginner plan.


The most important element of training for a marathon is that if you’re going to do it, you have to do it. That means not bailing on your long runs, and not neglecting your body during the week.

It’ll be a grueling and intense four months, but it’ll be worth it when you finish the marathon. What’s far worse is skimping on the training, then not being able to do the marathon. If you’re going to do it, you need to do it.

About the Author

Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
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