How to Train for Ultra Trail Running? – Training and Race Plan 2023

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Ultra trail running is often considered to be an existential running journey. An ultra trail running a marathon is any trail race that exceeds the standard running distance of 42 kilometers ( 26.2 miles). Trail running competitions distances can range from 50km (31 miles) to 161km (100 miles) or more run in one race. Ultra trails often comprise singletrack, dirt roads, pavement, or all three trail types. The trails can be set in point-to-point format, multiple laps of a set route, and may require runners to run to different aid stations or be completely self-supported.

Many runners consider ultrarunning an existential journey, learning different lessons at each significant distance landmark. Simply put, Ultrarunning is a format where runnings find spiritual transcendence.

This article will discuss what runners need to successfully understand ultra trail running and how to train for ultra trail running format successfully.

Trail Vs. Pavement: What is the difference?

Runners who have trained for road marathons or any other distance before will know that a big part of their planning is measuring their performance related to pacing on training runs. However, this is not the case regarding training for trail races. Trail running involves many different running aspects, thanks to the race terrain variety. 

Trail races encompass varying elevations and technical trails. What could be considered a 12 km (8 miles) effort on the road could result in 15 minutes for roughly 1.6 km (1 mile) or seven minutes if you have a major descent. The difference in effort required has serious implications for your planning, performance, and mental attitude training.

The best way to set yourself up for finishing an ultra trail run is to begin planning your training runs around time rather than the more traditional distance method. For most runners, this may feel counterintuitive if the method of logging total mileage every week. However, training for time will produce better results in time and performance when running trail races.

The key to training for an ultra trail race is to ensure that you are working up to total training times that approach the total race duration of your target event. This could mean that you plan to run back-to-back long runs in the advanced stages of your training.

Ultra Trail Running Prerequisites

Ultra Trail Running Prerequisites

The more famous and popular ultra trail races often require qualification through results at other trail events, with some ultra trail runs being invite-only. Runners must consider the above statement because of the required time to recover from an ultra race. 

It is not uncommon for experienced ultra trail runners to need as little as a month to start training after a big race, but if you are new to this running format, you may find that you will only be able to tolerate one ultramarathon per year.

If your dream event requires a qualifier race, you must be honest about how much time your body will need to recover after qualifying. New runners will find that participation in major ultra trail events can become a multi-year training process.

Also Read: What Is A Good Running Pace Per Km?

How to start training for an Ultra Trail Race

How to start training for an Ultra Trail Race

Runners can spend six months to a year training and preparing for a specific ultramarathon. Some ultramarathons can take up to two full days to complete, with the courses offering significant differences in elevation, technical terrain, and altitude. Ultramarathon runners commonly enlist a crew to help pace and support them through the race. The elements of teamwork and adventure are a major reason ultra trail runs have gained popularity as an alternative to the more traditional and competitive world of road marathon running.

Runners will find that completing an ultra trail race is not easy, but these races are accessible to anyone with the commitment and time required to train. 

1. Build an appropriate running base

The biggest mistake new ultra trail runners make is failing to lay a sufficient running foundation to handle the vital long training runs that are essential to running a successful ultramarathon. Training for an ultra is like opening a business; you must learn how to use the machines before opening a manufacturing workshop. The same logic applies to ultrarunning.

Runners can expect to comfortably run five to six times weekly for a few months. Once you have achieved this, you can lengthen your long runs to over 25 km (16 miles). Runners who fail to build a solid base of consistency can expect to become injured and underperform.

2. Focus on five long runs or back-to-back long weekend runs

An ultra trail running cycle should be structured similarly to any running training program. Most of your runs should be easy and not too long – 30 to 90 minutes. Once you have your running foundation, you can start running weekly long runs as you would for normal marathon training. It is a good idea to be comfortable running between 25 km (16 miles) to 32 km (20 miles) once a week. Once you are eight to ten weeks away from race day, push your long runs to every second or third week.

50km (31 miles) Race plan

The 16-week program is based on effort level, not pace. Training for 50km (31 miles) is about listening to your body and making changes when you think they are needed. The training plan below is categorized from 1-10, the effort level shown in the training plan.

The mileage increases as the weeks progress, with a taper-off period near race day. The plan also includes full body/core workouts to help with strength and conditioning.

Effort Level (EF) is rated 1 – 10.
1 – Slow Walk6 – Controlled Jog
2 – Normal Walk7 – Quick Jog
3 – Fast Walk8 – Fast Jog
4 – Slow Jog9 – Very Fast Jog
5 – Easy Jog10 – Sprint
Week 1(39 – 44km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 5km (EF – 5)Full Body Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)14km 
Week 2(38 – 50km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 7km (EF – 5)Core Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)17km 
Week 3(41 – 53km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 7km (EF – 5)Full Body Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)20km 
Week 4(48 – 59km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 9km (EF – 5)Core Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)24km 
Week 5(44 – 56km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 9km (EF – 5)Full Body Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)21km 
Week 6(56 – 62km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 9km (EF – 5)Core Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)27km 
Week 7(59 – 71 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 13km (EF – 7)Full Body Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – ) or 10km (EF – 5)32km 
Week 8(62 -74 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 13km (EF – 7)Core Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – ) or 10km (EF – 5)35km
Week 9(70 – 76 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 15km (EF – 7)Full Body Workout10 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)41km 
Week 10(69 – 81 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 15km (EF – 7)Core Workout15 km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)35km
Week 11(69 – 81 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 15km (EF – 7)Full Body Workout15km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)35km
Week 12(60 – 72 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 11km (EF – 7)Core Workout15km (EF – 8 )Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)30km
Week 13(48 – 65 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 11km (EF – 7)Full Body Workout13km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)25km
Week 14(44 – 56 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 7km (EF – 7)Core Workout13km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)20km 
Week 15(26 – 38 km)Rest or 6km (EF – 3) 5km (EF – 7)Full Body Workout7km (EF – 8)Rest4km (EF – 9) or 10km (EF – 5)10km
Week 16(10km)Rest 5km – (EF – 7)Rest5km (EF – 5)RestRestRACE DAY

Where to next?

If you are looking at running a 160 km (100-miler), it is recommended that you run a 50km ultra trail run first, and after completing the ultra, look at increasing your training to prepare for your first 160 km (100 miles) ultra trail run. You can find a training plan here.

Overall, the best way to train for an ultra trail run is to build a solid running base and then make changes based on your experience both in training and race day. Do you have any ultra trail running tips? We would love to hear them in the comments below.

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