re-sized marathons

Training for endurance events and ultra-marathons

With the new year well upon us, and with the knowledge that some intrepid souls are already proving their worth in Patagonia, we thought we might have a look into the training that is required to participate in endurance events, be it ultra-marathons or adventure races.

But first of all we need to try and understand why people would challenge themselves to such an extent. What is it that pushes some far more than others? I’m not sure there is any real answer to that, but Steve Clark, an ultra-marathon and endurance runner, sums it up pretty well when he explains:

“I wanted to be tested to my mental and physical limits and really see what I was made of, and fundamentally that is why I love ultras.  Run one and you can learn more about your strengths and weaknesses from one event than you would from a lifetime of listening to motivational speakers, self help gurus and personal development trainers.  You also get the time to think how to put it all into practice more than in any other sport I know.”

That’s a good enough reason isn’t it?

Running an ultra-marathon or competing in an adventure race requires at least 3 vital qualities: ambition, inner drive and determination. All endurance races are challenging and extreme ultra-marathons fall into a catagory all of their own. If you have not got a liberal dose of the 3 qualities I just mentioned to enable you to put in the correct quantity and quality of training, and the planning and preparation that is needed to increase your odds of success, then odds are you will not succeed.

Training for these type of events does not only happen when the weather’s good and you’re in the mood. This sort of training has to be done in all weathers, no matter how wet and miserable.

It is suggested that to complete your first 100-mile endurance you should have a one-year base of distance running, with at least two 50K distances and one 50-mile run, before starting the training schedule required for ultra-marathons. Running 100+ mile weeks does not increase one’s chances of finishing a 100-mile run. Many ultra runners have completed 100-mile runs with weekly mileage in the 50s or 60s. The rule here is ‘quality’ of training, over ‘quantity’.

Trail Runs has given the following training schedule which allows rest and recuperation days whilst building up the weekly average at a steady and sensible rate:


Week NumberMTWTFSSTotal
124614834
248616842
348616842
4486181046
524614834
6486181046
7486181046
8486201250
924614834
10486201250
114106231255
124106231255
1324614834
144126251360
154126251360
164126251360
1748610836
184126281565
194126281565
204126281565
2148610836
224156301570
234156301570
244156302075
2548610836
264156302075
274156302075
284106101040
29461020
30532100110

It looks pretty heavy this, but training is essential as you are going to find an ultra-marathon an ultra-challenge. To succeed in completing these distances is, without doubt, superb physical fitness and stamina, but 80% of the battle to succeed takes place in the final 20% of the distance, and here you have to dig deep and fight-the-fight mentally, calling on all your reserves and remembering the pain and effort you went through with your training.

It is essential to go into the 100-mile run well rested and injury free and for this reason you will note on the chart that the 2 weeks before the big run have a much lower mileage than the previous build up.

Rest is essential and it is equally essential that you do not get caught up in over-training.

This schedule is a 7 and a half month programme. Helen Skelton, the Blue Peter presenter, gave herself just 3 months to train for the Namibia Ultra-Marathon – one of the most formidable ultra-marathons of them all. She had bucket loads of what I said you needed: ambition, inner drive and determination. Mental strength is covered in those 3 requirements, but worth another mention as it is integral to whether you succeed or fail… Helen Skelton succeeded.

Being pulled from any race or event on medical grounds is always difficult to take, but is always out of your control. An ultra-marathon is a lot more than just gruelling training to allow you to complete the race. Water management is equally important. If you finish your supply before a checkpoint and dehydrate – you will not be able to recover without assistance. In times like that it is important that you do the two things the medic will insist on: Rest and Recuperate and a third thing that you should do for yourself at a time like this is: Reflect. Reflect on what you did well in the event, and what you can learn from the experience, so that it never happens again. You become stronger through adversity, never weaker.

Steve Clark, Across The Divide Operations  and Development Director and Ultra Marathon runner, ran 2 marathons before realising that they didn’t interest him enough. He sought the challenge of the ultra-marathon and was hooked. It’s not only the extreme challenge of succeeding, there is the added benefit of the others in the race and the destinations these ultra-marathons take you to.

“The best thing about Ultra’s has to be the people that you meet. They seem to be a much friendlier bunch and far more open to helping each other through dark patches on the trails, as they fully understand how hard these events can be and how even a little company and support can lift the spirits and make the difference between success and failure.  Most people are not in it to win it, but just to haul their bruised and battered bodies over the finish line.  They are quite happy to share this whole experience with fellow racers along the way.”

There are ultra-marathons in Namibia (charityatd), the Sahara, Antartica, Laugavegur Ultra Marathon in Iceland (charityatd), the Gobi Desert, the Atacama Desert, The Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan… to name just a few. Exotic, and all challenging terrains.

“So if you are contemplating making the leap from marathons to ultra marathons sign yourself up for an event today and you will never look back.  They are life changing experiences and you will definitely end up a better person for it,” he says.

For more information about Steve Clark’s company, Across the Divide, please follow the link.

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