Ultrarunning: Pointers for the Ultramarathon Beginner

June 27, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Pointers for the Ultramarathon Beginner”, please leave them below in the comments section…

So you’ve decided to participate in an ultramarathon.

Good for you!

Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?

People who enter this sport come from diverse backgrounds, do it for various reasons, and naturally carry their own preconceived notions about it. So it’s always better to get some proper basic information and form a clear picture before taking the plunge.

The following is a brief outline of important considerations that will help your beginning efforts in ultra running.

Train for specific conditions

No matter how much native athletic talent you may possess you still need to train and the most important idea in this major aspect of any sport is specificity. You have to train for the specific conditions of the race you plan to join. Remember that ultramarathon events are organized and held all over the world. There is a wide range of climate and terrain differences from race to race. The natural advantage goes to the local participant who might actually practice on the established course but barring that training option, you will simply have to find the best equivalent. Running up and down stadium steps for example can be a simulation for hilly terrain.

Practice long runs

Time and distance are the two obstacles you need to overcome in an ultramarathon. The best way to prepare is through long running. Practice going long distances regularly and you’ll have less DNF worries come race day. A steady pace is what will get you across that finish line. You’ll also more likely accomplish your personal time and distance goals.

Track progress

One way to be more effective in your training is to document it. How else can you tell if you’re improving? Which methods are actually helping you and which should you discard? With a simple logbook, you can note down your daily or weekly progress and other details of your training. Through this you’ll be able to make a more objective assessment of you performance.

Take appropriate fuel

Reloading food and fluids is a necessary routine in any ultramarathon. The quality and amount of food and fluids you take in during the rest periods and intermittent breaks of the race has a direct effect on your running. Poor quality and not enough quantity will certainly lead to lower performance down the line. The kind of fuel and how much of it you’ll need to bring along depends on your body’s particular needs and the conditions of the race.

Don’t over train

Remember that each runner has his or her own limit. Don’t fall into the trap of overtraining. Leave some time before the actual race for your body to heal and rejuvenate. These limits will change as you grow older.

Prevent and avoid injuries

Veteran ultra runners say that the three most common ailments that can hinder a participant are dehydration, nausea, and foot injuries. With the tremendous physical challenge of an ultramarathon, one can almost expect such problems to happen. Being proactively preventive is certainly a better approach but you should also be prepared to come up with improvised solutions on the trail. It is during such troubles that a support team plays a crucial role.


An ultramarathon tests all of your endurance – physical, mental, and emotional. Approaching the challenge with the proper mind set is just as critical as being physically prepared. Don’t judge yourself or formulate assumptions about the sport based only on the first few races you join. Fully appreciating and understanding ultras is an accomplishment that’s measured in years of experience.


Do you have questions about beginning ultramarathon, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond!

Comments (5)

  • Amy says:

    I've been getting more curious of ultrarunning, so I was pumped to see this post! I currently run regular distance marathons, some trail races and some road, and put in 40-45 mpw and bike/play a variety of sports for XT, when not running. What type of mileage and training should be put in when training for an ultra?

    Next year, I'm hoping to run my first 50 miler – any advice is appreciated!

  • We’ll be posting more on this as our articles progress, but I recommend starting with 1 60 minute hill workout, 1 60 minute speed workout, and then a gradual build from a 20 mile weekly run up to a 35 mile weekly run.

  • Eric says:

    An item that might be worth talking about for those looking at getting into ultra's is being a pacer or crewing for someone. This lets you get a firsthand look at what you're getting into, talk to people regarding what works for them (training, nutrition, etc.), see the psychological side of ultrarunning and gets you some trail time. I crewed/paced for a friend at Burning River last year as well as at Western States last weekend. It is a whole different world. A guy a Burning River walked by and told us they made him stop because he fractured his leg, he tried to convince them to let him keep going. At WS100 they encountered a bear and a cougar, as well as 4 people broke their legs going over the snow, one of which got airlifted out. Not to mention the vomiting. It's not a pretty sport, but apparently the challenge is worth it! 🙂

  • dvd ripper says:

    Hi, just stumbled on your page from reddit. It’s not an article I would typically read, but I loved your perspective on it. Thanks for making a blog post worth reading!

  • Chris says:

    I have been increasing my runs to 15 miles in the very early hours of the morning and I just love the lonesome runs with me and the stars.However I am 39 years old and I am not a runner, I have been running for little over a year. Big question is, am I to old to start training for ultra runs. I am ready have had a few little niggling injuries.

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