So, you’ve decided to run an ultramarathon? Congratulations!
You have just signed up for one of the most amazing experiences you will have in your life. Running an ultramarathon is an unbelievable feat, and few people decide to take on such a challenge.
One of the most important factors when deciding to run an ultra marathon is taking the sufficient time necessary to train. Many jump in without knowing exactly what they are getting into, and although they may be able to complete the race, they may have difficulty doing so.
By carving out the appropriate amount of time and working up to your ultramarathon little by little, you can count on having a fulfilling experience with tears in your eyes as you cross the finish line.
So what is the appropriate amount of time? How long does it take to train for an ultramarathon?
In this article, we will discuss the best way to go about running an ultramarathon, give you tips and tricks to make it a successful process, and ultimately answer your burning question, “how long does it take to train for an ultramarathon?”
We will look at:
- How Long Is An Ultramarathon?
- How Long Does It Take To Train For An Ultramarathon?
- 5 Tips To Train For An Ultramarathon Successfully
How Long Is An Ultramarathon?
First, let’s clear up what an ultramarathon distance is before we get into the amount of time it takes to train for one.
There is some controversy regarding this question, but let’s stick to the facts.A marathon is 26.2 miles or around 42 kilometers, so an ultramarathon is anything over 26.2 miles.
The most common ultramarathon distances are 50k, 80k (roughly 50 miles), 100k, and 100 miles. Of course, they go above and beyond those mileages, with experienced runners powering through for hundreds of miles.
Still, we’ll stick to the most common distances for our purposes.
How Long Does It Take To Train For An Ultramarathon?
The time it takes to train for an ultramarathon will differ from person to person depending on some significant factors, such as running experience, fitness level, and which ultramarathon distance chosen.
However, no matter what level of runner you are, the more time you can dedicate to training for your ultramarathon, the better.
For any ultramarathon distance, 50k, 80k, 100k, and 100-mile race, 6 months or 24 weeks is the recommended time to train appropriately for a race.
24 weeks is a good amount of time where you can actually make significant progress without burning yourself out by doing too much, too fast. This pertains to new runners and experienced runners alike.
What differs between new and experienced runners is their ultramarathon objective. If you are new to a distance, you will focus more on building up volume and being able to cover the miles. In contrast, experienced runners will focus on trying to run a PR in that particular distance.
Training for any ultramarathon distance should be done gradually.
If you have never run a 50k, you shouldn’t just jump into a 100-mile training program your first go. It’s not impossible, but the safest, healthiest way to train for ultramarathons, or any race, is to gradually increase your volume to allow your body to adapt.
Therefore, ideally, the best course of action for a person who has already run 5ks, 10ks, and hopefully even a half marathon or two would be to take 6 months to run their first 50k.
After that, if you want to bump up the distance, run a couple more 50k over the next year, and begin thinking about your first 50-miler. Take another 6 months to train properly for that, and so on. It can seem like a slow process, but that’s because it is. To get to the race feeling incredibly prepared and injury-free, this is the way to go.
Let’s break down our answer a little more by looking at the different running levels:
How Long Does It Take To Train For An Ultramarathon? For Non-Runners
If you have yet to begin your running journey, it is strongly suggested to start with an 8-week Couch to 5k training plan focusing on walk/run workouts to get your body accustomed to running little by little instead of jumping into an ultra as your first race.
Running is a high-impact sport, and it can take quite a toll on the body and even result in injury if not trained properly. Walk/run intervals are a great way to build up your endurance and tolerance for running.
Also, add some run/walk hikes to your weekend sessions to get used to running and walking on trails. Most ultramarathons occur on trails, so it would be best to start working on the terrain from the get-go.
To start your 5k training today, check out our: Couch to 5k Training Plans.
How Long Does It Take To Train For An Ultramarathon? Beginner Runner
If you are a beginner runner who does a couple of days of jogging in your neighborhood a week, taking on an ultramarathon as your first big goal will still be quite challenging.
As most ultramarathons take place on trails, you will not only need to accustom your body to the impact of running more mileage but also running on trails. This will include learning how to seamlessly skip over roots, run through streams and high grass, and go up and down hills.
The best strategy would be to begin with a 5k, then move on to a 10k, 21k, mountain marathon, and then your first 50k ultra.
However, if you’ve decided that you are going to start with the ambitious goal of running an ultra as your first, 6 months is the minimum amount of time you should set aside to prepare for your race.
To take on this training plan, you should be able to run 3-5 miles without stopping. Here is our Just Finish 50k Training Plan that focuses on the minimal distance needed to complete the race.
How Long Does It Take To Train For An Ultramarathon? Intermediate Runner
If you are already a trail runner and have done some racing in the past, we have the perfect improver training plans for you.
Even for an experienced runner, taking the necessary time to train is still essential. Again, six months is sufficient to prepare for an ultramarathon, even if you have been running consistently.
The goal as an experienced runner is to run better, faster, stronger, and beat previous personal records, so working over a long cycle will be a much better way to get there than rushing through it.
Our improver ultramarathon training plans will go beyond just volume and help you improve in the specific distance you have been running, whether a 50k, a 100-miler, or anything in between.
How Long Does It Take To Train For An Ultramarathon? Experienced Runners
For those looking to really hit that PR, we have some advanced ultramarathon training plans that include speedwork and plenty of mileage to push your limits and run your best ultra yet.
Again, 6 months is the magic number!
However, if you already manage a substantial amount of weekly mileage, you may be able to train in a shorter amount of time. Again, it all depends on your goals and how prepared you want to be. In this case, focus on race-specific training as much as possible.
5 Tips To Train For An Ultramarathon Successfully
#1: Train In The Trails
We all have busy schedules and oodles of responsibilities; however, while training for an ultramarathon, it is important to make some time to train on the trails.
The best time to do so is on your long runs.
Run long runs in similar terrain to the race you are training for.
This is especially important for those training for their first trail race. Getting used to dodging roots and ducking under branches is essential for handling yourself on the trails and having control over your body to limit the possibilities of twisting an ankle or taking a hard fall.
#2: Practice Your Nutrition
During an ultramarathon, your hydration and nutrition strategies are crucial, and you must have them practiced and polished before your big race.
Since ultramarathons will take hours and hours longer than a 5k or 10k race, you must fuel your body throughout to ensure you have enough energy to finish strong. A bonk during an ultra can cause hours of unhappiness or even become a dangerous situation that may force a DNF.
Plan out what works for you during the race, whether it be gels, bars, carbohydrate-filled sports drinks, salt pills, gummies, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Whatever gives you energy and zero tummy trouble will be the unique formula for your success.
Practice your nutrition and hydration in every long run, as trial and error is the only way to determine what works and doesn’t.
After 24 weeks, you’ll have that strategy nailed down and ready to go.
#3: Strength Train
Hitting the gym is vital while training for an ultramarathon to prepare your body for the constant training load and to keep you injury-free.
Add two days a week of total body strength training workouts into your week. Be sure to include compound exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, glute bridges, push-ups, rows, and planks.
#4: Practice Running In The Dark
If your ultra marathon either begins before the sun comes up or will finish after the sun goes down or, who knows, you may see two sunrises and sunsets depending on the race; you should practice running in the dark.
Running on trails in the dark takes a bit of getting used to. So, strap on your headlamp, choose a safe route and bring others along for the ride.
A couple of night (or early-morning) runs will be great practice for using and adjusting your headlamp and maneuvering through the trails without tripping and falling.
#5: Don’t Take Shortcuts
Every race distance presents its challenges, but with an ultra, you can’t cut any corners and hope to have a successful race.
To stay healthy and happy, ensure you carve out the time for all of the important extra details, such as:
- Warming up and cooling down before and after each session
- Strength training and mobility work twice a week
- Getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night, ideally
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that can support your constant calorie-burning training sessions
- Learning how to fix your feet, or even more importantly, how to avoid issues such as blisters, chafing, and runner’s toenail
- Massage of physical therapy appointments if necessary.
There are few accomplishments more rewarding than crossing an ultramarathon finish line. It’s worth taking the time to train correctly. Rushing the process will only put you at risk for injury or simply not enjoying the race because you are underprepared.
To start today, check out our ultramarathon training plans for all levels and ultra distances.