When I decided I was going to attempt my first 100K race, I was a little concerned that I may be jeopardising my chances of ever running faster over the marathon distance again. I guess that was based on the common misconception that training for an ultra would mean losing my speed.
What actually happened was the exact opposite, and within 12 months of running my first 100K I also ran the two fastest marathons of my life. It turned out that ultra training was just the stimulus that my body needed to make me an all-round better runner across all distances.
I do, however, follow some basic rules that I believe allow me to juggle my marathon and ultra racing well – the most important being not to drop your speedwork when training for an ultra.
To put it simply, the faster you can run your tempo runs, the easier your effort will be when you drop down to ‘ultra pace’.
In fact, the only big differences in my training between an ultra and a marathon comes at the weekend, when my long runs will end up longer and slightly slower. I may also add in back-to-back long runs where I perform a run of 20 miles or longer on both Saturday and Sunday.
My other main rule is to stay away from races that I know I won’t be able to finish without stopping for a lie down! I personally believe races up to 100K on reasonably fast terrain are a good limit before you really start having to make major modifications to your standard marathon training.
If you fancy giving an ultra a go, why not dip your toe in with a 50K race? It’s only five miles longer than a marathon, and if you get your nutrition and mental preparation right you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find you don’t turn into a pumpkin at 26.3 miles.
4 x parkrun (3min jog recoveries in-between)
I know what you’re thinking: four parkruns? That’s crazy talk! Just like any speed session, though, it’s all about getting the effort levels right and then anyone is capable. The 5K efforts need to be done just a bit slower than half marathon pace with an easy jog in-between.
Obviously you don’t have to do them on your local parkrun course, but I like to know I’m running the correct distance and it always gets me in the right frame of mind using a course I’m used to running fast on.