How To Prepare For Your First Ultramarathon

One of the ultimate tests of determination, bravery and endurance is the marathon, a 26-mile foot race that sees thousands of people start but far fewer finish. But some enterprising racers attempt to push themselves beyond that limit.


The original marathon length is the distance between Marathon and Athens in Greece and is so named because of the legend of Pheidippides, who ran the whole way to warn the leaders of Athens that their war against the Persians had been won before collapsing.


A marathon such as the London Marathon in April is a distance that is exceptionally long but possible for runners to with the right training, the right strategy and rehydration tablets on standby to make up for the electrolytes lost during the race.


However, preparing for an ultramarathon can be intense and whilst a lot of the training is similar to a marathon, there is a much greater emphasis on endurance, and as a result, the entire experience can be particularly difficult to the point that most endurance runners will never attempt one.


Here are some top tips for preparing for your first ultramarathon.

What is an Ultramarathon?

A marathon is officially 26 miles and 385 yards long, but an ultramarathon can be any length longer than this, although it almost always means a footrace longer than 31 miles (50km), with typical lengths being 31 miles, 62 miles (100km), 50 miles and 100 miles.


One of the most unusual races ties back to Ancient Greece, with the Spartathlon spanning 155 miles between Athens and Sparta, which was a run that Pheidippides allegedly accomplished in 36 hours.


In the UK, the most notable ultramarathon is the Spine Race taking place in winter from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm less than a mile west of the border, for a total distance of 268 miles.

How Do You Get Ready For An Ultra?

An ultramarathon requires a shift in mentality compared to other distance running events, as ensuring you set a pace you can maintain for as much of the race distance as possible is essential as is getting as much practice in as possible.


The first step is to set up a safe baseline which ramps up over the course of at least six months.


Typically you should start with one long run a week alongside a few easier runs all at a steady pace, whilst you build up your endurance mileage gradually. If you are increasing your distances by more than 10 per cent each week you may be overexerting yourself.


By two months before the race you should have back-to-back long runs as running the full race distance is unrealistic for practice. As well as this, incorporate strength training to help manage the inclines and protect yourself from injuries. Making it to the end should be the focus of your training.


As well as this, use these practices to determine the optimum fuel you need. You will typically need 200 calories per hour on an ultramarathon after the first hour of running and your body hits the wall. A typical ultramarathon can run up to seven hours.


Try a range of hydration products, drinks, gels, gummies and drinking tactics during your practices. Typically runners start with liquid energy sources at the start and switch to solid fuel foods later in the race to replenish electrolytes.