Some runners may mistakenly believe they can simply scale up a marathon training program but this is not the best way to devise a training strategy. Instead the athlete should plan on increasing his weekly mileage as much as possible without making himself susceptible to overuse injuries.
Most people would assume that the normal progression would be 5K’s, 10K’s, 10 milers, marathons, and then a 50 miler. I think that is appropriate in most cases. However, I don’t think you necessarily have to run a marathon before you run an ultra. In fact, most runners won’t attempt an ultra after having finished a marathon or two. The thought of going almost twice as far, hurting twice as much, and training twice as hard, is just an unbearable thought.
You don’t hurt twice as much. In fact, ultras are easier than marathons. Marathons are much more intense and most people run the entire distance. In ultras, only the very elite are able to run 50 miles non-stop. Some elite runners (who run all the way) are beaten by other runners who mix in walking with their running.
Additionally the runner should also carefully evaluate the terrain and profile of the course and should be sure to incorporate similar hills and running surfaces into the training to ensure he is prepared for the race. Ultra marathons can usually keep high intensity speed workouts to a minimum during the training process because these workouts are not likely to be beneficial during the ultra marathon.
The key to success is time on your feet. You need to adapt to spending long periods of time on your feet and moving forward. Longer runs (>4 hrs.) can be broken up with walking breaks. In fact, learning to walk and then run again is a key to success in ultra-marathons.
New research shows that pacing in running races is controlled primarily by the subconscious brain. Throughout each race, your brain calculates the fastest pace you can sustain without endangering your life and uses feelings of fatigue and reduced electrical output to your muscles to ensure that you run no faster. The more experience you have as a runner, the more reliable these calculations become.
“Stopping briefly for walk breaks in both training and racing is the key to being able to move forward at all times,” says Buffalo Chips ultrarunner Becky Johnson, who finished her first 50-miler in 2003.
Another thing I do, this one without any scientific basis but just my intuition, is to sing. I think music is the best pacer you can have and when singing out loud while running and walking I exercise my breathing better, expand my aerobic capacity.
A 30 mile run is by no means easy no matter how you look at it. Even if you walk most of it, it is still a really long walk. You can’t control what happens after 20 miles or so. That is when most of the pain and suffering happens. It takes a lot of discipline and determination to finish the last part.
You can, however, control the pace of the first 20 miles to make the last 10 much easier. The most important is to resist the urge to start faster than the ideal pace. Now I make sure I keep a speed during the first 20 miles that is very comfortable and at points even feels really easy, because I know that if I push it hard in the beginning it will feel like hell at the end. I also make sure I keep drinking fluids and eat small portions along the entire way.