Fitness Friday || The Challenge of Training for An Ultra Marathon

Running Ultra Marathons and the Year of Endurance.

2012 was all about speed and running PRs. 2013 is going to be about slowing down, endurance and ultra marathons. For the past few weeks I’ve been planning my goals for 2013 and while the list isn’t finalized yet there is one goal that will definitely be included, run my first 50 mile event.

ultramarathon training

Hawthorn Half Day Relay. I’m at a loss for words to describe how I felt after running this race.

After running the Hawthorn Half Day Relay (a 12-hour 2-person relay), that ended up being my first 50K, I knew I wanted to run an ultra marathon on my own. I wanted the challenge of not only the distance but also the challenge of committing to the training.

What is an ultra marathon?

A marathon is 26.2 miles long and an ultra marathon is any event longer. 30 miles, 50 miles, and 100 miles seem to be the most popular. An ultra can also be a timed event: 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, and even multi day-races. Some are run on roads, some on trails, and some (mainly timed events) on a track.

Why run an ultra marathon?

It’s the challenge of going even longer and the challenge of discovering personal limits, then breaking them.

How do you train for an ultra marathon?

Training for a 50-miler is much like marathon training, but with fewer and slower intervals, and somewhat longer (and slower) long runs spiced with walking breaks.

Ultra training is not about speed, or even distance, but rather time on your feet.

After looking at a variety of training plans the key element in being ready seems to be the long run “sandwich”, back-to-back long, slowish runs on successive days (likely Saturday and Sunday) bookended by two days of total rest.

Top 5 Tips for Training to Run Your First Ultra Marathon
  1. Get familiar. 
Train on the terrain you’re going to race on: trails, asphalt, or–as is common in many 50-mile events–a mix of the two. My challenge: not being able to start a run at my front door which means adding drive time to my weekly running. And, as much as I enjoy trail running, my comfort zone is street running.
  2. Pack a bag. 
Most 50-mile events will drop your race bag near the 35-mile point (some also will make a drop around 20 miles). Your drop bag(s) should include solid fuel (your favorite energy bars, candy bars, or gels), sunscreen, long-sleeve T-shirt and/or nylon windbreaker, clean socks and an alternate pair of shoes, and Vaseline or skin lube. My challenge: knowing what I need to pack.
  3. Start slowly, then back off. 
Because when it comes to 50-milers, pacing errors no longer penalize just your finishing time, but the possibility of finishing at all. My challenge: changing my mindset. After years of training to run faster, the concept of intentionally running slower feels foreign. 
  4. Eat, drink, and (try to) be merry. 
During the race, eat whatever worked for you during your training runs: cookies, raisins, figs, crackers, pretzels, energy bars. Whatever. And drink continuously: eight ounces or so every 15 to 20 minutes, including electrolyte-loaded sports drinks. Consider high-caffeine drinks over the last 15 miles. My challenge: finding what works that doesn’t include an abundance of sweets.
  5. Find a rhythm. Take breaks. 
Stopping briefly for walk breaks in both training and racing is the key to being able to move forward at all times. One popular run/walk pattern is to run 20 minutes, walk five minutes. Do this from the outset, or after you’ve run the first 15 or 20 miles, or whatever pattern has worked best for you in your training. Some prefer a shorter mix of running five minutes, then walking one, believing that this is less stressful than the 20:5 pattern. Note: Walk all uphills, even the small ones. My challenge: changing my mindset. I’ve have to become okay with walking when I feel like I should be running.

I’ve decided on the goal. Now, I just need to pick a goal race. Chad will be running with me and, as of now, we have it narrowed down to 2 options:


Finger Lakes Fifties Trail Runs in July. This would be a 20th anniversary trip for Chad and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate! Or

ultramarathon training

Dawg Gone Long Run 50 Mile Trail Race in June. I’ve run 17 miles of this course as a pacer for Chad. I don’t know what else to say except that it’s an incredibly tough course.

With a 50 mile race being my big goal of 2013, I’ve finally decided that for my 13 in 2013 goal I’m going to run 13 trail races. A little push to get me out of my comfort zone of street running and onto the trails.

The challenge of running  beyond 26.2 miles is a given. Which of the 5 training tips would be the most challenging for you? What is your “big” goal for 2013?

About Jill Conyers

My name is Jill, welcome to my blog! Jill Conyers | Fitness, Health and Happiness follows my life and my passion for family, fitness, nutrition and healthy living. I love being outdoors, conversations with my kids, run dates with my husband and creating in the kitchen.

Posted under #FitFluential, Ambassador, Challenge, Fitness, Goals, Link-Up, Nutrition, Running, Top 5

58 comments on “Fitness Friday || The Challenge of Training for An Ultra Marathon

  1. I already have a packing problem, so packing a bag for an ultra would be the hardest for me. I’m looking forward to following you on your journey!

  2. Girl, you are living my dream! First you took on Ragnar and now you going for an ultra. That is so incredible! Someday I’ll take on those goals too. I’ve definitely had to slow down this past year due to my plantar fasciitis. I’m just enjoying the goals I’ve set instead of going for the the PR.

    1. Honestly, this year has been like a dream! My husband calls it the year of Jill :)

      The goal of a PR drives me like no other. I know my main focus will be distance but I’m hoping for PRs mixed into the year too.

      With your commitment and determination you’ve got that PR!

  3. The Fingerlake one sounds perfect! I heard many good things about it and the timing is just perfect!! Do they have a half marathon option? Maybe I could come up there to run a little bit with you!

  4. That’s an amazing goal for 2013, Jill! I can’t wait to follow your training. I’m still working on what direction I want to go in 2013, but know that I will be running more trails.

      1. Depending on where I run, yes, I definitely wear trail shoes. I wear the Brooks Adrenaline Trail Shoe (the model name is escaping me right now). Trail shoes are a MUST for the mud :)

  5. Wow!!! I know you will do an amazing job training and running your first ultra! I love your goals and reading about your experiences, and I cannot wait to read more about your training.

  6. That is so awesome! I can’t wait to read more about your training. I’m hopefully going to be able to train for a marathon for January 2014! I can’t wait to get started!

  7. You’re amazing! Ever since I read a book this year on ultramarathoning, I’ve been fascinated. I can’t wait to hear about your training and running the race.

    I decided to do at least one half marathon as part of my 13 in 2013. Now I need to find a training plan and tailor it to my schedule and a half marathon to sign up for.

  8. That’s so exciting, Jill! I still have a few more prs I’m chasing in 2013, but at some point, I could definitely see myself slowing down and working toward an ultra, too. It’s so great you and Chad can do it together!

  9. LOVE that you are going for 13 trail races, not to mention the ultra! It’s great that you have the challenges laid out and will be concentrating on them going into it. I’m sure that will make all the difference.

    1. Thanks Amanda. As often as Chad runs with me he is excited about me having trail races as a goal. He will run with me on the streets but he’s a trail runner at heart.

      Have a great weekend!

  10. Starting off slowly is ALWAYS a problem for me with longer distances! I’m thinking of doing the Finger Lakes 50k as my first ultra, so will definitely have to practice that pacing!

    Good luck on the 50 miler!

  11. Yay! Do the Finger Lakes Fifties (then you’ll be near me) and I can come support you! I think I want to do my first ultra next year, but a 50K. We’ll see though since I’m doing two marathons and a half Ironman.

    I’m excited to follow your training!

  12. I loved this post! I have just started thinking about a possibly 50K and eventually within the next 2 years would like to work myself up to a 50 miler so this post was so helpful! I am very interested and excited to follow along on your journey and take notes and pointers. You will do great!

    1. This year listening to my body has served me well. A lesson finally learned that will definitely help with my goal for next year. I’m fascinated by the concept of running on tired legs as opposed to resting after a long run.

      Mind if I bug you with a question? Did you find a run/walk rhythm when you ran your first 50?And did you use that same run/walk to train from the beginning or closer to race day?

      All tips and recommendations you’re willing to share are more than welcome!

    1. I know! I’m quickly learning this about Hoka with my husband’s new obsession with wanting to get a pair.

      Mind if I ask what it is about them that you love? With my latest minimal running the contradiction fascinates me.

      1. Jill, almost a couple years ago, my feet started to bother me, specifically the fat pads.balls of my feet. I was at a point when I was having trouble exercising & even walking w/o tons of pain. The walking was a necessity but exercising was beyond painful. A FB reader wore these shoes & she had neuropathy in her feet. I finally broke down & tried them. I was so THANKFUL!!!! I could exercise & walk again! I still had pain when I took them off but wearing them was like nothing was wrong. After about 6=7 months of wearing these, that fad pad area pain is almost gone. I know the prob is there BUT I don’t feel it any more. For those fist 6 months, I wore the Hoka shoes for all cardio AND WEIGHTS! Now I can wear a flatter shoe for my leg days which is important for legs. I still wear the Hoka shoes for other weight days just to be safe. It is like running clouds! Protects my joints too! I know total opposite of you & many others that like minimalist but they save my exercise life & walking around life. I have recommended them to many & they say they will never go back! :) Tell your hubby to try them just so you can hear what he says. Well worth the money for me! :)

  13. I have zero advice for 50 milers, but I would get with Julia @ Pain, Pride, Perseverance since she just ran her first one this past year. I know there is a really good trail half in chattanooga in spring… i tried googling it but I failed. I’ll keep trying and will send along

  14. i don’t know which part i love more… you challenging yourself or you running your 50 miler with Chad for your anniversary! no matter which race you pick i know you’ll do great.

    my biggest goal for 2013 is my first full in march.

    1. Thank you Courtney! An anniversary race will make it hard not to choose the 50 in NY.

      How exciting to have the anticipation of running your first full marathon! Which one are you running?

      1. Yeah, your first 50 will be memorable either way, but I think doing it together for your anniversary will just be the icing on the cake!

        I’m doing the Biltmore marathon in March!

  15. This is going to be an exciting year for you Jill! I have a suggestion for fuel that is not too sweet. One of my favorite trail snacks is potatoes with salt. If you get the small fingerling ones, you could even carry them with you pretty easily without them getting smashed or broken. I also like dried apricots and baby food (you could get the veggie kinds).

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