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  • Writer's pictureDean Ashby

The Truth About Training For A Marathon or An Ultra Marathon

Four runners with their medals at the ultramarathon finishing line.
The Llangollen 50K Ultra Marathon, June 2022

This is part two of my blog on why I think you should consider throwing away the marathon training plan.

Instead, my advice is to relax and enjoy the journey.

Read on for what I believe is the key to more enjoyable, successful, and injury-free long distance running.

By Dean Ashby.

Whether you’re training for your first marathon or you want to run multiple ultras, I believe you don’t necessarily need to stick to a strict training plan. What I’ve got to say could surprise you, but it all comes from the benefit of real-life ultramarathon running experience.

Preparing For a Marathon or an Ultra

When deciding to run a marathon or ultra, most runners will conduct a bit of research. Perhaps they’ll Google the time they have to train, or the time in which they aspire to finish the race. Runners will then feel they have to stick to the plan to the letter. Should they deviate, come race day, they worry they won’t be able to finish, they’ll get injured, or they’ll just hate every second.

Well, I don’t agree. This is what you need to do to enjoy successful long distance running.

1. Concentrate on Achieving a Good Fitness Level

If you want to start tackling longer distances like marathons and ultras, work towards being able  to run 10 miles comfortably, at a strong pace and without stopping. You can build up your endurance slowly be extending your distance while running at a conversational pace.

My Tip: You need to be running three days a week when you’re training for a long distance running event.

2. Mix Up The Training

Training plans very often go along a similar line, incorporating different running paces and distances to build strength, technique, speed, and endurance. It’s important that you do mix up your training with fast runs, hill-sprints, interval training, tempo runs, and long, easy runs at a conversational pace. But you don’t need to obsess about the plan.

My Tip: Run with buddies or enter parkrun if running alone feels hard, especially in the winter.

3. Break the Rules

It’s ok to be flexible. Go with your heart and run how you feel on the day. The most important thing is that you enjoy your runs. Take away the pleasure and you’ll struggle, and ultimately, you’re more likely to fail.

My Tip: Remind yourself how fabulous you are. Only about half to one percent of the population has run a marathon. And how many people do you know that would rather sit at home than get out and train? You're investing in yourself and your health.

4. Double Your Recovery Time

To prepare for a long distance race, you’ll need to run a longer distance every week or every other week, but go easy on yourself. Most training plans only incorporate a one day rest day a week. But the body needs time to recover after a long run. When you’ve run more than 20k in one go, have a two-day break from running.

My Tip: Straight after a long run, you should be consuming a reputable recovery drink, increasing water consumption, and taking in more protein. It’s also good to stretch, and you might consider a sports massage.

5. Work on Your Core Fitness

A strong core will help ensure a better posture and balance, which, in turn, means you’re less likely to suffer a strain or injury. My advice is to forget about the six pack and concentrate on planks, squats, mountain climbers, leg raises, and regular strenuous walks. Incorporate strength training alongside your running to build core muscles. You’ll notice the difference in your running.

My Tip: Resistance bands can help build leg muscles and you can use them in the comfort of your home.

6. Don’t Beat Yourself Up Trying to Conquer the Distance

My personal view is that if you have a good fitness level, strong core, a positive mindset, and the right fuel, you can run a half-marathon, marathon, and even an ultra. You don’t necessarily need to have ticked the actual distance off on your training plan before event day.

This is because, if you overdo it, you run the risk of injury. An article on the TCS London Marathon website says that more than a third of runners sustain injuries while preparing for their marathon.

If you’ve ever taken an injury close to event day, you’ll understand the frustration. The chances are you’ve worked physically hard for months, and you might even have changed your lifestyle, adjusted your diet, or given up alcohol. Then suddenly, you’ve pulled a calf - and it’s all over.

Look at how the military around the world train and select people for special forces. Instead of measuring a person’s ability to run a marathon, they look for mental strength, the determination to keep putting one foot in-front of the other, however far, whatever the conditions. This is what it takes to succeed when the going gets tough.

Tip: Remember over-training is likely to lead to problems. Rest days are just as important as training days, and mindset is absolutely key to success.

7. Believe in Your Fuel

A fuelling strategy is absolutely essential in long-distance running. Our bodies are like engines; without the right fuel, we will stop moving forward. Never underestimate the value of good nutrition on your running performance. Try different energy products on your runs to establish your preference and what works for you.

Tip: You can get a 15% discount on my favourite sport nutrition products from Mountain Fuel.

Join Us If You're Training For a Marathon or Ultra Marathon!

I don’t believe you need to follow a rigorous and structured training plan to run a marathon or an ultra. The secret to long distance running is to achieve good all round fitness, strengthen your core, fuel your body, and train your mind. The result is a physically and mentally strong person who can and will remain focused on the goal, knows what they need to do to achieve it, and will succeed.

Get in touch to train with us at AAT&T, or reach out for a chat.

Stay Strong.



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