ultrarunning training camp

The Best Training Tool for a 100-Mile Ultramarathon


By Andy Jones-Wilkins,
CTS Ultrarunning Pro Coach

Every spring, as athletes ramp up their training for long summer races, I get asked questions about the best ways to prepare. Recently, an athlete asked me, “In preparing for a 100-mile race, what is the most important training thing to do, besides just running?”

That last bit of his question (‘besides just running’) was important. Without that qualifier, my mind would go to all the fundamentals of ultramarathon training. The aerobic conditioning workouts, preparing for the elevation gain, learning what foods work best for you during long runs, training for prolonged downhills, etc. Those are all the “normal” things we do to prepare athletes for ultrarunning. He wasn’t asking about that. His question was akin to, “What else can I do that’s really going to make a difference?”

After reflecting on it and thinking about what I have observed in the sport over the past 20 years, I found my answer:

In preparing for the physical demands of a 100-mile race, the single most important thing to do is a three-day training camp.

Race-Organizer On-Course Camps

If the timing is right and your plans allow, some events offer three-day training camps on the racecourse. For instance, both Western States 100 and Leadville 100 Mile organize three-day training weekends that allow runners to experience much of the course before race day and to log 60 to 70 miles during the weekend. Course reconnaissance is a major advantage, especially for athletes preparing for their first attempt at a particular race.

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Running Stage Races as Training Camps

Sometimes you can’t get to a race-organizer’s training camp or the race you want to do doesn’t offer one. Another option is to use a multi-day running stage race as a de facto training camp. Two fantastic three-day stage races in the United States include Three Days of Syllamo in March in Arkansas and the West Virginia Trilogy in October in West Virginia. Both events cover more than 90 miles across three days and provide excellent training volume.

The tension and competitive environment are advantages to utilizing multi-day races as training camps. Even if you are not overly concerned with accomplishing your best result, pinning on a number adds a sense of urgency and allows you to practice pacing, hydration, nutrition, and aid station strategies under race conditions.

Do-it-Yourself Training Camps

If neither of those options fit into your schedule, I recommend a good old-fashioned do-it-yourself (DIY) training camp. For the DIY version, it is important to time your camp somewhere between four to six weeks in advance of your event and to block out the time with family and work. This is crucial because you want to be able to go all in. If you can travel to the racecourse for your training weekend, that is ideal. If not, it is wise to find a location similar to the environment of your goal race. In finding a training ground, pay attention to trail surface, vertical gain, and weather conditions, and do your best to match those up with your goal race.

DIY Camp Schedule

In setting up the schedule for the three-day camp focused on preparing for a 100-mile race, I suggest at least 70 total miles over the three days. The first day should be the longest. Consider something like 30 miles on the first day and 20 miles each on days two and three. Although this often works best, don’t worry if some variation is necessary. Additionally, some folks want to practice running at night on tired legs, so you can integrate some night running into the three days.

Non-Physical Benefits of Training Camps

The training volume and back-to-back runs are important physical aspects of training camps. The most important aspect, however, is the mental benefit. To maximize these benefits, I urge athletes to figure out a way that they can be completely immersed in training and recovery, with no distractions. Whenever possible, this is a time to unplug from social media and work emails and devote yourself to the task at hand. While this may not be possible for all athletes, the psychological edge that can be gained from an “all in” camp can be a game changer.

So, for all of you reading this who are thinking through your training plans for the next few months, consider a three-day training camp. I assure you, you’ll come out of it more physically fit and, better yet, mentally strong and well-prepared for what lies ahead.

Comments 4

  1. What type of training camp would you recommend to someone who is attempting to do their 1st 50K. Any suggestions are appreciated. I am beginning to feel that I am not prepared. I have a 1/2 marathon this weekend.

  2. What would you recommend as the most important training thing to do besides running (for a 100-200 mile road run)?

    Strength training, range of motion work, cycling, walking, stair climbing, etc.?

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