Fitness and Performance

Training for an ultramarathon with Rebecca | Part 2

Jun 14 2021

Bodyset RunFit Specialist Rebecca, is close to taking on her first ultramarathon.

On 11th July she aims to complete the Threshold Trail Series Race to the Stones, where she will run 100 kilometres – from Lewknor to Avebury’s iconic stone circle – in just one day!
Rebecca has been sharing her ultramarathon training journey with us over the past few months. Since we last caught up with her, she’s built on strength, endurance, and willpower. Plus, she’s picked up some useful training tips and insights along the way. Here’s how she’s been getting on and what she’s learnt so far…

It’s not long now until race day and I’m far into my training. The past two months have been a rollercoaster for both motivation and training! The first month of the ultramarathon training felt easy. I was enjoying all my runs, found myself steadily increasing to longer distances and I recovered well after each run. I felt good! But after a while, I hit a wall. At that point, I was completing 30km+ runs at the weekends. It was ok at first, but it did start to get hard to repeat week in and week out. It was tough on my mind and body. I needed to find a way to stay motivated! Thankfully, I spoke to other runners, did some research, and managed to find my own way around it. I learned some valuable lessons.

Rest & recover

Quality over quantity! The first and very important part of training for a marathon or an ultramarathon is that you must include rest and recovery weeks. It’s important to let your body rest and recover from repetitive loading… The weight you load onto your body with each stride can cause strain on your tendons and muscles if not rested. During a recovery week, you can still run and train – just reduce the intensity and the distance to roughly 70-75%. This is called tapering and it’s beneficial to incorporate into your training programme every five weeks.

Before I started training, I knew all the benefits that planned rest has on you physically, but I didn’t realise how much you needed it mentally! After a few weeks of continuous long distances, my motivation was low and I was enjoying running less. But having that one week of lower intensity training helped me realise how far along I’d come on my training journey. The time to rest and reflect really gave me the boost I needed to keep going!
During rest weeks, reduce the distance of your long runs as well as the intensity of your shorter runs. You may find that during the rest weeks you feel a bit more achy and tired. This is a normal part of muscle recovery. Focus on eating well, getting good sleep and drinking plenty of water. Water, sleep and nutrition are so important! It’s also really beneficial to include some mobility and low-intensity strength exercises around your hips and back to help support your body during your runs. Some good examples include the Frog Pose, 90/90 Hip Stretch and Pidgeon Pose.

Slow down

Another important part of training for an ultramarathon is slowing down. The longer the race the more you need to prioritise completing the distance over how fast you’re going. My previous marathon times have been around 4 hours to complete 42.2km, but now I have reduced it down to 5 hours. Why? Because my body is not going to be able to keep the same pace for over twice the distance. It’s important to be realistic about timings. For a 100km race, most runners will have to add roughly 50% of the time it took them to run the first half of the race, to the second half of the race. So, if you run 50km in 6 hours, you will need to plan around 9 hours for the second half. You can also slow down the first half of the race to even the timings out.

Take part in other races

It’s always good to include a shorter race as a part of your ultramarathon training. It helps you get a feel for how a race day feels, what it’s like to run with others, and how to stay on top of your nutrition and water intake. All of this helps to remove some of the race day nerves too,

In preparation, I completed the Goring Gap Ultramarathon on the 16th of May. The Goring Gap follows the River Thames through Reading, Goring, and Streatley (past our Streatley clinic). It’s beautiful and the terrain is mostly trail which was great practice as the Race to the Stones will be similar. What really helped me here was that I was running with other people so it was great for keeping a pace and for feeling motivated.

We ran a lot of the flatter areas and walked up the hills and pit stops. Although it was half the distance of the 100km ultramarathon I’m training for, we paced it at the speed that intends to run at the final race. This meant that by the end of the Goring Gap Run I felt like I could keep going!

Split the race into sections

A distance like this can feel daunting, and there are many ways to help make it easier. One way is to split up the distances. We ran it in 5 x 10km sections. We had all done 10km runs easily in training, so doing this made it easier to tackle mentally. It meant that we could also structure our fluid and food intake around each section

Incorporate strength and balance exercises

Another thing I discovered during the Goring Gap Run was how very different trail running is to road running. I was aware of the differences, but it wasn’t until doing the race that I could experience the difference first-hand. Notably, it makes things a lot slower due to the softer ground, undulations, and muddy areas. This means shorter steps, and your ankles and legs working harder. Balance and single-legged exercises as part of your strength training can help prepare your body for this. Exercises like single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts and balancing on one leg, will help build a strong foundation.

I plan to include more trail runs in my ultramarathon training plan, as it will help me feel stronger and more confident during the final 100km Race to the Stones.

In summary – eat and sleep well, include recovery weeks, slow down and be realistic. But most importantly, enjoy the journey.

The final push

I plan to complete one marathon and one more 50km run before slowing down to prepare for race day. As I draw closer to the race I will use the time to maintain my strength and mobility training and focus a lot on my sleep and nutrition. At this point, I have already put most of the mileage in and just need the last push to the start line. I’m very nervous, but I am looking forward to it, and I know that all the effort I have put in will pay off. Wish me luck and stay tuned!