How Much Time Do You Really Need To Train For An Ultramarathon?
Most of us are limited by time, with our ultrarunning training somehow crammed into busy lives. Taking an hour at lunch or waking up an hour earlier to get a run in is more often than not the way most normal people with lives, jobs, and a family fit in their training. It is extremely easy, particularly if you are an aspiring ultrarunner, to conclude that you don’t have enough time to train. But I find most athletes overestimate the amount of time truly required to train for an ultramarathon. They linearly expand their marathon training to accommodate the longer 50K, 50 mile, and 100 mile distances: “If I trained 8 hours per week for a marathon, I need to train 16 for a 50-miler.”
On the surface, that type of thinking is entirely logical, so I don’t blame athletes for approaching the idea of training for an ultramarathon with trepidation. The fact is, though, there is not a linear relationship between the training required for a marathon and the training required for an ultra. A 50-miler does not require twice the amount of training as a marathon, nor does a 100-miler take twice as much training as a 50-miler. The reality is, most people are limited by available time. Therefore, reality dictates that most people train with a similar amount of volume irrespective of the distance they are training for. This limitation underscores the need for high-quality structure in our training. After all, if you ain’t got much, you better make the most of what you do have.
“Minimum-Maximum” Ultramarathon Training Time
There is, undoubtedly, a minimum amount of training time required to be successful at an ultramarathon, although it’s not the same for everybody or for every distance. I always present this concept in terms of the minimum amount of time you need to be able to devote during your period of highest training volume. This “minimum maximum” sets a reference point for what you can expect to achieve on race day and helps you determine if the distance you have chosen is reasonable. While you do not need to always have this “minimum maximum” amount of training time available, you do need to have it for key weeks during the season:
- 50K and 50 mile ultramarathons: minimum maximum of 6 hours per week for 3 weeks, starting 6 weeks before your goal event
- 100K and 100 mile ultramarathons: minimum maximum of 9 hours per week for 6 weeks, starting 9 weeks before your goal event
In other words, you need at least 6 hours per week of training, for at least 3 weeks, to be successful at the 50K and 50-mile ultra distances. For the 100K and 100-mile ultra distances, you need at least 9 hours of training per week for 6 weeks. Outside of this 3- or 6-week period, you can have a lower volume and be perfectly successful, as long as you also do higher-quality training. Although this formula does not guarantee success or maximum performance, not being able to achieve these critical minimum maximums can lead to failure and underperformance.
When setting goals for a season, you need to carefully consider this minimum maximum concept. You need to be well informed that, according to your goals, you will need to meet these minimum time requirements in key training weeks in order to achieve success. If you can’t commit the time, you are less likely to meet your goals; it’s that simple. However, if you do have the required time, 6 hours per week for 3 weeks, or 9 hours per week for 6 weeks, you have every reason to believe that you can be successful. How successful you are with that time has entirely to do with how effective your training is!
Excerpt from Jason Koop’s book Training Essentials for Ultrarunning