ultramarathon training rocks

How to Start Your Ultramarathon Training Season

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By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning

This past weekend, I spent some time coaching and observing runners at the Black Canyons ultras. Over the last few years, I’ve found this to be a good litmus test of how runners are approaching training for the upcoming season. The race is early enough in the year that most runners are still getting their legs under them, adding some of the initial bits and pieces of vertical, miles and intensity. Most would not, however, consider themselves ‘completely prepared’ so early in the year. They might be missing some mileage or vertical or come to the race not knowing what flavor of gel they want. The parade of hobbled and discombobulated runners suffering from shattered quads and inadequate calories at the finish line confirms this anecdote. Yet, the races are also after the lottery season, so at least the planning process for the year has been fleshed out and runners have a reasonable sense of where their adventures will take them. This dichotomy, where the planning is formed but the training is not quite there, puts runners in an eager spot to start ramping things up. If you are in a similar situation, here’s how to get started on the right foot.

Step #1- Choose to incorporate intensity or increase your volume, but not both

Volume and intensity should be constantly counterbalanced. As one is added, the other taken away. If you are spending the early part of the year ramping up your volume, skip adding intensity until you reach a consistent number of hours or miles per week for several weeks. Similarly, if you decided to add some high intensity training into your workout mix, you should decrease, or at least hold constant, the total number of hours you do. Whatever you do, don’t add intensity and increase volume at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster and is a mistake I see runners and coaches make all of the time.

If you have done a good job during the winter months keeping up with your training, you can easily start to incorporate some type of intensity while maintaining your current number of hours per week. But if you took an extended break from training, and maybe ate too many Christmas cookies, then spend several weeks and just run. Get your legs back under you and get a volume of miles and time in before you consider adding any intensity to your game plan.

Step #2- Figure out when your most challenging weeks of training are going to be

Take a look at your race calendar. The final 6-8 weeks of training for most runners leading into their focus race will tend to be the most challenging. Rightfully so, as runners do this by design as their training crescendos into a perfect peak. But, even if your last few weeks of training are the hardest because you had that ‘oh $h!t’ moment that the race is right around the corner (you know who you are), chances are the training result is the same. Your peak training timeframe might include a training camp, course recon or some other form of a training block that will be above and beyond your day to day training grind. After you have identified this timeframe, work to clear your calendar and square away other race day details and routines so that during that timeframe, you are doing everything you can to simply focus on running. Nothing extraneous or frivolous, just the running. Why? The running will be hard enough. If you are putting the details of your race day nutrition plan together, trying to shave off a few pounds, tinkering with your shoes or any other added stress pieces of nuance during a time where your training load is the highest, you risk compromising that training effect or even worse, getting hurt or injured.  So, square away with those details NOW! Get your gear dialed, get your nutrition plan in order, make sure you have a consistent sleep routine and do research on the race well in advance of those critical weeks. Square away all of those things now so that when the time comes your limited resources can be all consumed by packing on the miles and reaping the rewards.

Step 3- Set up a training camp or training race

Now that you’ve figured out when your hardest training weeks should be, it’s time to do something about it! Set up a training camp or training race somewhere in that timeframe to enhance the process. This could come in the form of a 3-day training weekend, course recon, getaway with your fellow dirt loving friends or even a shorter trace that you use for training purposes. In any case, getting it on the calendar can serve both as a jumpstart and a form of checks and balances for your training. If you know you have to be in good enough shape for the tune up camp/race, you are more likely to engage in the training process earlier and use that time more effectively, simply because you are more intentional about it.

Step 4- Train

Pretty simple, it’s time to start training. If you are training for an ultramarathon in April, May, June, July or beyond, you need to be training with intent (not just running) now. Those events will be here before you know it and if you don’t watch yourself, 4-weeks-to-go will be right around the corner, leaving you wondering where all the time went. You don’t need to set the world on fire in February, but you should be training reasonably right now so that you make small improvements over the course of the next several months.


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Comments 2

  1. “The parade of hobbled and discombobulated runners suffering from shattered quads and inadequate calories at the finish line confirms this anecdote. ”

    Hey Koop, I resemble that remark…Black Canyon was really interesting in this year. The number of people that commented some version of ‘no one had a good day’ left me surprised. I think your comments are partially on point but I think the conditions this year, and the course, caught a lot of even really experienced people out.

    I ‘ran’ for about 5 miles with someone who had finished WS100 and they commented that BC this year was harder than they remember WS being.

  2. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News | Wed, Feb 19 | Ultrarunnerpodcast.com

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