Ultra Trail Running - 100K
In this article we will talk about preparing and training for your Ultra Trail Race, 100K distance. You can read broad guideline advice on the topics of gear, nutrition/hydration, technique, training, etiquette and racing.
Trails (or paths/tracks) can be found in forests, fields and in the mountains. They can take you to new places, in terms of location and training. You will need to train specifically to improve endurance and skills. If you are new to running on trails then build up gradually by including trail sections into your workouts.
Shoes: Roots, rocks, slippery mud and gravel mean that it is key to have the right shoes. The best shoe is the right one for you and the environment you will be running in. It is worth going to a specialist trail running store for advice and fitting according to your budget, running environment and foot type.
Backpack: Running long in the trails will call for some preparation and forethought. Consider the route and weather you are likely to encounter along the way. Your backpack may need to contain a change of clothes, nutrition, hydration, navigation aid, phone, mini first aid, keys, cash, sun protection and more.
Kit: Choose moisture-wicking merino wool or synthetics rather than cotton for your running wear (including socks). A lightweight rain shell for wet or cold conditions. Layers are practical for longer runs when the weather may change.
Water: You will need to carry enough water to sustain you for your run. Unless you plan to replenish along the way. Choose to use hydration vests/backpacks and practice in training what you will do on race day. For shorter runs a handheld water bottle or a small waist belt should be sufficient.
Nutrition: When you're exercising for longer than about 1 hour 20 you need to consume carbohydrate during your workouts to stop your energy levels from dropping too much. Aim for the equivalent of an energy gel every 30 minutes for training. It doesn't have to be an "energy" product, it just needs to consist mainly of carbohydrate. When you run really long distances "real" food is fine, you will be typically moving at a slower pace that will allow for easier digestion. Training is a great opportunity to practice your nutrition and what will work best for you on race day.
Uneven terrain and trails slow you down. You will be activating more supporting muscles and it is important to build up gradually. Practicing will, of course, bring about improvements in your skills such as coordination, agility, ability to react and proprioception to help you become more sure-footed. Techniques for ascending, descending and the varieties of terrain will also be learnt during training.
Where your foot first strikes the ground should be relative to your centre of gravity. Relax and take short strides that fall under your center of gravity. The subsequent foot landing will likely be ideal for your physiology.
Shorter, more rapid strides provide greater stability and will more effectively distribute the load over a long run on uneven terrain. This minimises the risk of injury. Determine a cadence that works for you. There is no "right cadence", however most trail runners will run at 170+ strides per minute.
Include on your longer runs skill practice such as jumping, running sideways, hopping, fast feet and running up and down single/multiple steps. Practice jumping stone to stone or from root to root to improve your proprioception and coordination. Stay focused to stay safe.
Arm SwingYour arm swing should counter hip movement and preserve balance. The most efficient way to do this keep your arms close to your body with about a 90 degree bend at the elbow. There will be times when you use your arms more for balance, in particular running downhill. Running uphill
Achieving challenging running goals requires focus, passion as well as efficient and effective training. Choose a structured plan that is progressive, suits your ability, schedule and goals and will grow your aerobic endurance, strength, skills and technique to become a stronger trail runner. To start training for your first Ultra Trail 100K race you should have been running consistently for at least two years, and be healthy. You will need to be committed to your long term goal and have patience to progress gradually.
Success comes with the progressive accumulation of training volume over time. Start with a plan that suits your current fitness and focus on ticking off the workouts. Consistency is the golden ticket, rather than any single workout. Think in weeks and months, rather than day-to-day. Don't get too focused on good days or bad days or over-analysing your short term data.
To safely achieve increasing run volumes the majority of training will be easy in intensity. It’s essential not to overload the body with stress. Your plan will include some elements of structured workouts with higher intensities however the ratio of hard:easy is about 90:10 depending on at what stage of training you are at. The work is specific to your ultimate Ultra Trail Running goals.
As your volume increases, it can be more difficult both mentally and physically to face multiple long runs each week. It's fine to split your long runs, one in the morning and then a second in the evening. Double runs allow you to add more stress with a lower risk of injury.
Eat for Training and Recovery
Make sure you are well fuelled ready for your runs and then refuel to promote a faster and better recovery and adaptation.
Be Mindful for Injury Prevention
If you feel a niggle, even if it seems minor, rest and see a sports specialist if necessary. The most likely reason for you not to make the start line is injury. Running through a niggle can soon develop into a full blown injury that will leave you side-lined.
You probably will suffer periods of discomfort, apathy and fatigue during a run (sorry!). You need to have mental resilience to overcome these periods. As you gain experience your perceptions will change. You will find ways/tricks to help you move through the difficult times.
To be an Ultra Trail Runner, you sometimes will be spending an entire morning in a steady state of running and hiking through nature. This is not something to be rushed, plan your schedule and know that you have the time to spend running.
Experience in racing will provide valuable lessons as well as physical adaptations. Whichever way you measure success whether it is completion, faster times and/or longevity in the sport, experience will enhance success.
Study your race route, focusing on elevation gain and loss, terrain and distance. If the run has lots of up and down, be sure to mimic that as much as possible in training.
- Aerobic Endurance: Ultra Trail 100k training is about pushing your running volume boundary progressively and safely while staying healthy, happy and motivated. Aerobic endurance training is key to gradually build endurance and increase efficiency. This will make up the bulk of your training. Take these runs to the trails whenever possible. Your pace on these runs will depend on several factors, such as the terrain and conditions. Measure intensity using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or heart rate rather than pace. This will help you to listen to your body.
- Long Run: It is better for you to train thinking in terms of duration not distance. Different types of trails of the same distance will take different times. For consistent progression, time on your feet is a better measure. This will help you avoid over/under training. Your weekly volumes will progress at the same time as your weekend long run.
- Strength Endurance (Hill Sessions): To develop your strength and skills for running both up and down hills. These will include intervals of effort that get harder as you move through the plan.
- Tempo Runs: These sessions will improve your run thresholds when progressively and consistently over time. They involve relatively long efforts, and relatively short recoveries.
- Speed Workouts: These sessions are designed to gradually get you used to running faster using higher-intensity energy systems that allow your body to push harder, faster and longer
- Progressions Runs: These runs will develop your running stamina and teach the body and mind to stay strong throughout your race. Nail these sessions in training to be prepared for the demands on race day.
Rest and Recovery
Injury is common amongst runners and therefore rest and recovery is a key element in training, so you’re not hammering your body every single weekend. Our training plans feature a three week cycle like this: Week 1: Moderately Long Sunday Run, Week 2: Long Sunday Run, Week 3: Active Recovery Week.
During your “active recovery weeks” your training is half as much as normal. This gives your body a chance to adapt, boosting your fitness and reducing your chances of getting injured. After each “active recovery week” we then gradually progress the difficulty of your key workouts, so you’re continually challenged. This pattern of training will ensure you improve at the optimal rate.
Respect the environment you are running in.
- Run down the middle of the trail to minimise erosion and preserve the flora and fauna
- If you have to step off the trail stay on durable surfaces, which usually means rocks, sand or gravel
- Understand how to behave if you encounter wildlife on your run
- Respect others on the trails, warn of your approach if from behind, don't be overly noisy, keep it phone free if possible
- Clean up after yourself (and others if necessary)
You can’t turn up for an ultra without the proper planning. Of course you need to be properly trained but you also need to formulate a race strategy that includes all aspects of your event. Including knowledge of the route, pacing, nutrition, hydration, logistics, gear, navigation and anything specific to your race.
At some longer distance Ultras you are able to have a support crew. You can receive assistance and moral support at checkpoints along the route. Check your race brochure for details. You may also have the opportunity to have a drop bag at aid stations. This may contain a change of kit, extra layers, headlamp and specific snacks.
Sometimes 100K's go past sunset. Practice in training the conditions you are likely to have in your race. Run with a headtorch, and when tired late in the day.
Aid stations are usually set up with a variety of snacks. The longer the distance, the more substantial the food offered. Find out what will be on offer before your race to help you formulate race strategies.Choosing the right races for your training
- 10K trail races: Great to add into the early stages of training
- 10-mile to 26.2-mile: These are ideal to include as you build endurance and start to ramp up your volumes towards a 100K race
- 100K: Your target distance and "A" Race
Races can be hilly or flat and the nature of climbs varied. Terrain may be runnable, or rocky and technical making it impossible to run in sections. Where possible replicate the conditions of your race in your training. Looking at previous years results will give you an idea of the difficulty of the elevations and terrain.
Destination racing is fun and adds to the adventure, consider the climate, altitude and unique challenges of the race on offer before signing up.
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