It’s that time of year—the days are getting longer, temperatures are warmer (in most regions) and it occurs to you that it might be a good idea to have an actual training plan for that race you signed up for back in January. Sure, you’ve been running and even thrown in a few strides every so often, but now it’s clear that in order to prepare for the ultramarathon you paid good money for, a solid training plan might be in order.
As an athlete and a coach, I’ve worked with several runners in various stages of fitness, with different race goals. Through all of this, I’ve learned there are many ways to move forward with confidence.
If you’re brand new to ultrarunning, it’s a good idea not to add more than one or two 50k races to your calendar. A veteran of the sport may have a full race schedule with multiple races that includes several distances from 50k all the way up to 200 miles. Regardless, it is important to determine your “A” race and build a training plan accordingly.
So, where should you start? This depends largely on your personality. Are you in need of motivation and accountability? If so, an ultra coach is a great option—they are great for both holding you accountable and keeping your mileage to a slow and steady build to race day. If having a coach doesn’t fit your budget or you’re undecided, look for a training group. Running stores provide such a service and often for a smaller fee. You’ll be surrounded by fellow runners who will hold you accountable and act as built-in training partners.
Another good option is to create a training program on your own, using the vast resources available in the form of coaching websites, books and podcasts. It can be rather difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, so look for the most current, most scientifically based, peer-reviewed information. Choose something that makes sense to you and isn’t overly complicated. You’ll want it to be user friendly and flexible, which will make it easier to follow.
One of the most important, if not the most important piece to a training program, no matter which route you take, is communication. A coach, a training group and your own self-designed program all require you to be very honest. Coaches don’t need to be pleased, so refrain from telling them everything is great and feels amazing if you feel like crap and have a sore hamstring. A coach’s job is to take that information and modify your schedule. That is a little harder to do in a training group, but a good program will help you modify workouts so you can still stay active. And finally, if you write your own program, be honest with yourself. Take that extra day off if you’re struggling on your runs, and/or reduce the workload and see if you can find the balance of enough stress to elicit a positive adaptation with ample recovery time.
You can finish an ultramarathon without a training plan, but using one is a good investment in yourself and your goals, no matter how large or small. If you self-describe as “just a finisher,” you can still benefit by getting to the start line with confidence, finishing with a bigger smile and recovering faster.