Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finding the Time to Train for Ultramarathons

Ultramarathons must take a ton of training. Don't they?

That's a question I receive more than any other. Well, aside from “Why do you do it?” People are hesitant to make the plunge into the world of ultras because the training appears so intimidating. It must take a gargantuan weekly time commitment to prepare your body to run 31+ miles at one time.

Yes and no.

It is possible to run an ultra on very little training. Rich Elliott, a good friend, decided to run a 50 miler with no training. His lone training run consisted of a 5k a few weeks prior. That's it. He ran 3.1 miles in two years. On race day, he managed to eek out 27 miles before throwing in the towel.

John DeVries, another good friend, ran a 12 hour timed ultra with a single 8 mile run in the previous two years. He made it to about 22 miles. Off topic, but check out John's adventures as he travels the Americas on his motorcycle:

What can be learned from their experiences? It's tough to run an ultra with no training. If you have a little bit of a running background, you could probably do it with minimal training. If you have a strong running background, you can probably do it with the training you already have.

The correlation should be obvious- the more you train, the better the results. I would go a step farther and say the more you train, the more enjoyable the race will be.

It does take time. This is a huge undertaking, and you will have work to do. There are no substitute or shortcuts- you have to put in the hours.

However, these hours don't have to be intimidating. You don't have to add a ton of training hours on top of your already busy schedule. The trick is to merge your ultra training with your existing daily life.

Not only is it possible, it's the norm. Ultrarunning is a unique sport. Even the best of the best don't make enough money from sponsorships or race winnings to make a living. In fact, this money rarely pays for the races themselves. Pretty much all ultrarunners have normal jobs. They have to figure out how to fit ultrarunning into their lives. 

The secret is deceptively simple:

Always train. 

No, I don't mean skirt all your responsibilities, sell the kids on eBay, and start running ten hours each day. Look at everything you do on a daily basis and begin asking:

How can I tweak this activity to achieve some training benefit?

Turn everything in your life into an opportunity to train. By simply re-framing the situation, you don't have to worry about carving four hours each day out of your already busy life. Instead you are now free to train 24 hours a day, seven days a week!  Day at the office?  Training.  Picking up toilet bowl cleaner from the grocery store?  Training.  Puttin' the moves on your significant other?  Training.  Yes, you read that right.  Sounds more fun than running around a track, huh?

I know what some of you are thinking: but I don't have a significant other!  Worry not strong-armed friends, I have at least one tip for you, too.

Most of the advice I give in this good revolves around this idea- you can train pretty much everywhere no matter what you're doing.



  1. "strong-armed friends" I laughed aloud. I've the maturity of a 5 year old.

  2. I think this is right on. I also think people use the "I'm too busy excuse far too often." Some might be, but most are not. They are just too lazy. I do what a lot of people do and just schedule my long runs super early so I still have the rest of the day with my family. Then schedule something like a zoo visit so we have family time and I'm still on me feet training. Then some training with the old lady at the end of the day!

  3. How though? For your readers like myself who prefer not to think for themselves, some examples would be great :) Or is that the next chapter?