Going Beyond the Marathon

Written by Andrew Simmons for the Spring 2017 issue of ATRA’s Trail Times Newsletter.

If 2017 is the year you will go beyond the marathon distance, consider the following.

Preparation: Longer distances will require more time in lots of aspects, make sure you have the time to commit to training. Starting with a good plan and an idea of how many hours you can train each week is key.

Time Frame: If you’re currently in good shape you can prepare for a 50K in roughly 12 weeks and if you’re starting from scratch give yourself plenty of time , up to 24 weeks to prepare for your event.

6 Tips for your Best Race

Run where you race:

It can be hard to find trail access in urban areas but it’s a pretty safe bet most ultras will take you off road and onto a trail. This is beneficial in multiple ways; it helps break up training by taking you out of your comfort zone. Getting lost is a part of training, and developing a strong sense of direction and ability to cope in the event of a mistake is a necessary skill. Trail running offers less impact on you and your body, it may make you sore from using new muscles you don’t use on the road. This will make you stronger and more durable

Throw away your ego:

Having coached road racers for years, splits and times go out of the window. If you think you’re going to run a consistent pace front to back in an ultra, you will come to a harsh realization at your first hill or technical section. Ultra marathons require a ‘manage it as it happens approach. While a road marathon requires supreme fitness, an ultra requires similar fitness and the ability to manage or solve problems as you run. Running down a steep technical hill with rocks and roots, and back up a wet culvert requires good fitness and the ability to control yourself so you can get to the finish line in one piece.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use fitness markers to your advantage in a race. A majority of my ultra marathon plans are based on HR, and require you to find a comfortable zone that you can run in, and endure for 4,5,6,7 hours to complete the course. Keeping yourself in an aerobic zone allows you to utilize on-board energy more efficiently and will keep you feeling fresh longer. Tip over threshold a few too many times, and you may experience a bonk, a lot tougher when you have another 10+ miles if you hit it at mile 20!

Miles are not king when you go off road. Time on feet matters more than the weekly total mileage. You’ll find that if a majority of you r work is truly aerobic you’ll be running slower than you may have been in previous training build ups. This will require you to reframe what’s important in your ultra training.

Pressure Test the System:

Ultra distance training will require you to run longer, which requires you to learn more about what your bodies needs to perform. This is especially true once you start looking at 50 mile, 100K, and 100 mile races. Hydration and fueling strategies should be tested on your long runs, and you should start to note what it feels like when you’re dehydrated or low on fuel. Your long runs are your chance to try out new fuels, if you have a bad stretch in a long run, it’s a learning experience in many ways! A key component to your success is the long run but also replicating what you’re going to expect to see on race day; think about the terrain, major elements like long hills, extended descents, or race day conditions like extreme heat or cold.

You’re stronger and more capable than you think:

It’s hard to imagine what running 30 miles will feel like, and I can’t even tell you what you will personally experience. To some that extra 5 miles is an eternity, and to others it’s a natural and more comfortable progression. Pacing yourself and taking the race aid station to aid station is going to help you break the race into manageable chunks. Give yourself a boost at each aid station as a reward, or imbibing in an aid station treat (believe me they have some amazing things at these trail races!)

An Ultra requires mental persistence and self-affirmation and belief you can complete it. Many professionals utilize mantra’s to keep them focused and ‘in the zone’ others like to use music, podcasts, or tactics to push the little monster out from there head.


You’ll want to give yourself an extra 7-10 days of low mileage on top of your normal marathon recovery protocol. If you’re jumping right into an Ultra – you should allow yourself 5 days of low impact activity directly following and roughly 10-14 days before you return to 75% of your normal training and 20 days before you hop into normal training. The first one always takes the longest to recover from. In rare cases there can be minimal soreness from a race like this but the metabolic, mental, and physiological toll can put you down for longer than you think.

Take this time to enjoy activities you missed out on during peak training, and maybe sleep in a little, and slowly introduce yourself back to training. Recovery is the second best part after the race itself!

Andrew Simmons is an endurance running coach for Lifelong Endurance, specializing in ultra marathoners, youth, and distance runners.  To find out more information on Andrew and Lifelong Endurance visit www.lifelongendurance.com, or on Facebook: Lifelong Endurance.