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How Much Training Time Do You Need To Run an Ultramarathon?


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!

By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning, author “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning, 2nd Ed.

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Excerpt from Jason Koop’s book Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

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Comments 16

  1. In my opinion it would be a lot more informative to specify minimum training requirements for successfully completing an ultra in terms of mileage, or better yet both mileage and time.

    1. Since your body doesnt know miles only work or load and a 6 minute mile and a 13 min mile are both a mile, time on your feet or load is a better measuring stick for training.

  2. My personal formula is that I need to be able to run my race distance comfortably for a 2 or 3 weeks in a row without too much issues popping.

    So for 100k, that means I need to be able to link up a few 100k weeks in a row. Possible to do that on flatter trails/road I guess with 9hours a week. Though if running on trails for a harder marathon (more D+ or worst trails) then I think at least for me 9 hours is pretty low, would go more for 12 hours or so.

    1. This would be very tough to translate to a 100 miler, especially if it were a hard mountain course. Those would be 20+ hour weeks for me, at least.

  3. Hi I have a 50 mile trail race coming up in about 7 weeks. but was thinking of shifting over to the 100 miler. my training at the moment is around 7 hrs per week. i have completed plenty of 100k races and 50k races but not the big one. plus elevation of 7000m.

    what advice can you give me

  4. Training for a 50K Race Walk six weeks from now, this article gives me some confidence. How long should my longest walk in training be? I would say at least 35K?

  5. This is great! I’ve been training around 12 hours for the last several months, for nothing other than fitness. Just found a 6h race I want to to with the goal of hitting 50k, I’ve done some 70.3’s and half’s but my open marathon was cancelled this year. This makes me feel confident my fitness is on par to be ready in 4 weeks to “go the distance” 🙌

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  8. Good article for stronger/faster runners but slower runners and/or runners training for a race w significant vertical climb will potentially require more time per week to get the miles in. Agree on shorter “high-intensity” midweek runs to lessen the time commitment.

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  10. Read Jason’s book if you haven’t already, it’s the most comprehensive book on Ultrarunning I have ever read.

  11. Thanks for the article. I have several who train 10 hours per week for Olympic distance triathlons. I have tried unsuccessfully to convince them that 12 or so hours per week (efficiently used) is enough for a 140.6. Maybe this article will convince them.

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