Training for Your First Ultra Run

Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

An athlete from “across the pond” sent me an email last week, asking about going from a current fitness level suited to 10K–15K trail runs to preparing for an 84-mile run along the length of Hadrian’s Wall. He plans to do it in May 2011 to raise money for a U.K.-based charity, Help for Heroes, which gives aid to men and women of the armed forces.

Justin Horrocks wrote,

I’m seeking help, advice, suggestions, or ideas—basically anything that would help me achieve my goal. I am by no means an ultra runner, nor have I ever been, so any advice that I can get would be greatly received.

I know the running of Hadrian’s wall is a whole new ball game for me, but then it wouldn’t be a challenge if I’d done things like this all the time. That itself gives me more of an incentive to do it, as well as the cause I have chosen to do it for. I would like to be able to complete the challenge in two days (42ish miles per day) but I know I may be asking a little much of myself as a novice long distance runner.

This sounds like a great challenge, Justin! I applaud you for your fundraising with the U.K.-based charity. Our military here in the U.S. has a Wounded Soldiers program that is fantastic also. Our returning troops are in need of as much positive support as they can get; it is so well deserved.

Your level of fitness is a great start, which will help you achieve your goal of running the wall in about two days, three days at the outside. My thought is to aim high and imagine doing it in hours instead of days. If you train properly, you may be able to do the wall in under 36 hours. The key is to be conservative at the start of the run, and mix the running with walking as needed, such as when you’re heading up hills. And stay ready, focused, and relentless in achieving your goal. I’m hoping that you will have support along the way, or even people pacing you in sections—that would be an even better scenario.

Having said all of this, and assuming you have no injuries, here’s a training plan:

  • Start running about 20 to 30 miles per week until just after the first of the year. I suggest a weekly routine of one day of longer run of slower 6 to 10 miles; one day with hills; one day with cross-training (such as biking or swimming); one day of strength training, weights, and balance ball; and one day of speed work on the track (simply speeding up from a jog for one lap, taking a slow jog for one lap, speeding up for two laps, slow jog for one lap, then speed up for three laps, slow jog for one lap—and then doing it again in reverse order, with the number of speed laps decreasing each time). Take two rest days per week: one after the longer run and one after the speed work.
  • In January and February, crank up the mileage to about 30 to 40 miles per week.
  • In March, go up to 50 miles per week.
  • In April, about four weeks before you set off, I’d like you to be doing at least 60 miles per week with two longer runs of about 30 miles each. Do those longer runs 7 to 10 days apart.

Let me know if you have any further questions or if you get injured. Good luck, and do keep me in the loop.

Have questions of your own about training, gear, nutrition, hydration, recovery, strategy, or anything else related to endurance sports? Just ask. I’m happy to help.

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1 Response to Training for Your First Ultra Run

  1. Justin Horrocks says:

    Firstly let me say sorry for not replying sooner and secondly let me say thank you very much indeed for that advice Marshall, i appreciate you taking the time to post my question and respond with help on training and advice.

    I have been doing my normal 10-15k events here and there recently still no long distance yet, 1st of Jan is my intended to kick start the distance training and move out of the 10-15k areas.

    I shall keep you updated and informed how things are going with training and how the event is shaping up as it still has things to be ironed out here and there.

    Thank you once again and i wish you and your family a very happy yule tide season.


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