Finishing a marathon or longer ultra race like the XTERRA Shepaug 80K takes serious endurance. Ultra runs are considered to be any distance beyond the marathon, and typically, held on trails. While gaining much popularity throughout the running community, ultras still remain an enigma to most.
“Do I pin my bib on my shorts? Is that even legal? Those guys look fast. Maybe I should move back. What’s that on his head? A light? Am I the only person holding a flashlight? Do I need a drop bag? That guy has a drop bag. Crew? I need a crew? Aid stations have real food? What about all these gels? Should I carry a water bottle? Hydration pack? What kind of shoes are those? Why is everybody smiling and joking around? Wait… is that toilet paper in a ziplock? Why does he have toilet paper? Toilet paper? Do I need toilet paper?”
However, while much longer than a 10K, training for an XTERRA ultra run isn’t radically different than training for a shorter race. Online training plans are becoming more prevalent and XTERRA trail runs are offered at longer distances in more places. Speed work still plays a major part in training. Maintenance runs and long runs still hold equal value. Strength training and core work remain a solid must. The biggest difference is time. A marathon plan may peak with 50-55 miles and 7-8 hours of running. A 100-mile training cycle may peak with 110 miles and 15-17 hours of running. During marathon training, most will work up to and run a 20 miler a couple of times. Any ultra distance training will cover that distance several times and a runner looking forward to 100 miler will become so comfortable with the distance that they will be thankful to see an “easy 20” on their schedule.
David Murphy, head ultra coach of PRS Fit and XTERRA’s new “Couch to Trail Program” advises athletes to keep it simple. “Find a plan or coach to get you there,” Murphy says. “Become comfortable being uncomfortable. Walk the line smartly between tired and injured. Learn how to eat real food and drink more than you think you should. Buy a headlamp. Carry toilet paper. Collect finisher medal or buckle. Brag on social media.”
Murphy adds that when you have a simple but solid training plan, you can devote your attention to mindset, which is a key element of a successful ultra. “It gets lonely on the trail,” says Murphy. “There can be stretches of solitude that last for miles. Walking becomes part of the race and is no longer something to be embarrassed about. Learning how to walk and, more importantly, when to run again is not easy but is very necessary.” A small hill that would be easily conquered even in the late stages of a marathon become giant mountains and a welcome opportunity to walk. Effort-based training becomes your best friend as pace based training can lead you astray if relied upon as the sole factor during training runs.
“The key to mindset is knowing that you will finish before you even start,” continues Murphy. “Fear is good. Even necessary. Fear will keep you hungry and fighting. But doubt is the destroyer of dreams and will either kill your day before it starts, or prolong the agony to levels of pain you have never known. Before embarking on an ultra, you need to resolve to go the distance.”
Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun
David Murphy is the Head Ultra Coach at PRS Fit. His personal accomplishments include: