Ultra Running Guide: Your Steps to Success

Perhaps you’ve run a few half-marathons. You’ve possibly run a couple marathons. You’ve caught the running bug and are looking to run further. What is next? How do you go about longer runs? Let us guide you on all things needed for a successful transition to ultra running. Whether you’re targeting a 50k, 100 miler, or trans-continental route, the items below will help you maximize your time and enjoyment of the sport!

Training

Base Fitness build while ultra running

When training for an ultra, many athletes become overwhelmed with the amount of miles/kilometers they will run on race day(s). Don’t worry, you will never run more than your body can handle in training. The key to successful training for ultra’s is consistency day in and day out along with a gradual weekly build in training load. By gradually building your training load each week, you provide your body with a chance to adapt to the longer distances and stress.

Outside of the consistency and building training load, you will also begin to build your weekly long run, and often times stack long runs on back-to-back days. The reason we don’t run 40 miles at once, is due to fatigue. If you did this, you would require 2-3 days off to recover. Rather, athletes should run 22 miles on Saturday, and 18 miles on Sunday to build aerobic endurance, but not overly fatigue your body. We want to build fitness without breaking down muscles unnecessarily.

To help athletes with this transition, COROS developed multiple training plans for different distances. Athletes targeting a 50k-50 miler should utilize our 50k Trail Run Training Plan. For athletes looking to go long, we also designed a 100 Mile Ultra Training Plan.

Nutrition

COROS VERTIX 2 with Nutrition Alert

As you run farther, nutrition begins to play a larger role. With a marathon, you often hear about “the wall” at mile 20. What is happening here is a lack of energy due to not supplying your body with enough calories. As you extend beyond a marathon, you will begin to see how important it is that you dial in your nutrition strategy.

When identifying nutrition, we want to target mostly carbohydrates for your energy needs. Protein will help reduce muscular breakdown, but isn’t great for energy. Fat will help power your lower efforts, but your body has enough of it to sustain movement for long periods of time (even if you’re already lean). Therefore, the macronutrient we want to target is carbohydrates. This is what breaks down to glucose and provides your muscles with the energy needed.

During your long runs in training, it is highly recommended that you try different nutritional tactics. We don’t want you trying something new on race day. Get into the mindset that you will refuel every 20-40 minutes (set an alert on your watch), and put this into practice. Begin to identify how many calories you need on your long runs. How much is too little, how much is too much? What types of foods do you prefer? Do you prefer different foods in different environment conditions (heat/humidity)? These are all individualized items that you will need to know for race day success.

Lastly, Ultra running may often last longer than 6 hours. The same gel or substance may not taste good at mile 40 like it did at mile 10. Be open minded to different food options. Ultimately we are just seeking energy to ensure you can keep moving forward at your intended effort.

Hydration

Just like nutrition, hydration will play a critical role in your success. When running for multiple hours/days in harsh conditions, you can easily become dehydrated, or over-hydrated.

When athletes first start off in long-distance endurance events, they often understand the need for water, but having a focus on replenishing your electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) is also important. When you only drink water over a long duration of exercise, you can actually dilute your sodium levels which can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, and potentially life threatening circumstances. This is called hyponatremia.

On the flip side of hyponatremia, is dehydration. If you don’t take in enough fluids, you can be operating at a deficit which will severely impact performance and may also turn into life threatening risks. Its important for long-distance endurance athletes to find a electrolyte mix that works for them to prolong their efforts and performance overtime. There is no need to overcompensate in one direction or the other, but rather try to keep a steady mix of hydration and electrolytes throughout your endeavor. Due to the severity of this topic, we recommend you consult with a sports nutritionist or doctor if you’re having trouble on longer runs.

Pacing

Pace Zones via COROS EvoLab

When looking at some of the best ultra runners in the world, they spend most of their time in races within their Aerobic Endurance zone. For those that do not use a COROS device, this is considered your aerobic base pace. If you’re running a 50k, you can get away with running in your Aerobic Power zone, but for those longer events, we want to reduce unnecessary fatigue. The best way of doing this is putting a limit of how fast you can run.

One way you can do this is to set a pace alert on your watch to ensure you don’t run faster than you should. Another part of pacing is dealing with elevation. How fast or slow should you go up a mountain or down a mountain? With a COROS device, you can set “Adjusted Pace” on your watch as a metric. This metric will let you know your effort compared to if you were running on flat terrain. By using pace alerts and Adjusted Pace, you can begin to dial in your pacing approach for your next ultra running event!

Navigation

Navigation on the APEX Pro

When looking to conquer an ultra running event, you often will go over rough terrain with plenty of trail changes. Race organizers do a great job in mapping out these turns, but wouldn’t it be better to have the map on your wrist? How about all of your long training runs on trails? What if you could create a route and then hit start once you show up at the trail head?

With the COROS VERTIX and APEX series, you can put navigation on your watch. Not only can you have the route, but you can also have checkpoints. Wondering how far until the next aid station? Simply put It as a checkpoint before you start your ultra running event. You’ll know where you are on course along with the upcoming stops along the way. This is a must for ultra runners for both performance, strategy, and safety.

Equipment

A long run means you need equipment to support your adventure. Each individual will identify key pieces of equipment that they love, but there are a few items we feel all ultra runners should have.

GPS Watch: Whether you choose a COROS or not, a GPS watch is a must. With navigation, battery life, nutrition alerts, pace, heart rate, and other features, this is your go-to tool for updates into how you’re doing and where you are on course. For both performance and safety, a GPS watch will help you maximize your results.

Nutrition/Hydration Pack: When running long miles, you need to ensure you stay hydrated and well nourished. Its impossible to carry all of this in your hands and enjoy your run. Find a reliable pack or waistband that you can carry all of your essential items for performance.

Headlamp: When running long distance ultra’s, you’re going to be running through the night. For safety and performance reasons, it’s important to see where you’re going. Invest in a nice headlamp to help you on the trail!

Shoes: When running for speed on the road, you will have racing flats. When running ultra’s, you’ll need shoes you’re comfortable in for long periods of time. Spend time getting to know the different brands and products. Find what works best for you and be sure to equip your feet with the equipment they need.

Mindset

Heading into ultra running, it’s important that you shift your mindset. There are a lot of unknowns with long-distance racing. This is a new adventure for you and with that comes learning. Many of your learnings will come from failures in training and racing. That is part of it! While you may have ambitious goals (which are great), we would urge you to go in with a learning mentality. Lets push your body to the limit and ensure you’re ready, but it’s different racing for 6-48 hours vs training for 3-4 hours. Embrace that journey and you’ll love every step along the way!

Conclusion

As you head into ultra distance events, there are areas of focus that make major impacts on your enjoyment, performance, and safety. These items consist of training, nutrition, hydration, pacing, equipment, and mindset. As you embark on this new journey, focus on maximizing each one of these items. The better you get in each area, the better your overall results. Ultra running is about consistency and remaining steady. Work throughout your training on maximizing these areas and you’ll be sure to maximize your upcoming races!

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