At the core of ultra marathon training is the long run. This is the key training session of the week, and usually occurs on the weekend. It is the run that will increase your endurance and stamina for the long miles of your ultra marathon.
There are many elements to the long run. As well as getting out there and actually putting one foot in front of the other, there is also long run prep, long run recovery, kit, fuel and more to consider. We take a look at these elements and what goes into a successful long run.
- Learn more about a typical training plan
- Discover more about long run prep
- Click here to discover more about long run recovery
- The ultra marathon kit you will need
A Typical Long Run Schedule
When training for an ultra marathon, ensure that you structure your plan so that you build up the miles over the course of your designated timeframe. We often include a couple of lower mileage weeks on a 4 weekly cycle to give us chance to recover. A typical 16 week plan for a 30 mile event may look like this for example.
|Week 1||12 miles|
|Week 2||13 miles|
|Week 3||15 miles|
|Week 4||10 miles (easy week)|
|Week 5||16 miles|
|Week 6||17 miles|
|Week 7||18 miles|
|Week 8||15 miles (easy week)|
|Week 9||20 miles|
|Week 10||22 miles|
|Week 11||25 miles|
|Week 12||15 miles (easy week)|
|Week 13||25 miles|
|Week 14||20 miles (taper)|
|Week 15||15 miles (taper)|
|Week 16||Race day|
Long Run Prep
Even now, after years of long runs, we still take time to prep for our long run. We will work out how many miles we are going to do and the sort of terrain we will cover but essentially, these are all things that we consider before heading out the door:
- What kit will we wear? Always check the weather forecast for maximum comfort
- What course will we run? Are we staying local, going further afield?
- What time will we meet and how long will it take?
- What nutrition do we need to take and how much kit do we need to carry?
- Who is buying the breakfast/lunch after?
Of course, we don’t often get up and run 20-25 miles off the cuff without planning at least a day ahead. Make sure you don’t eat anything the night before that is likely to disagree with you. A vindaloo may not be your best bet. Also be sure to hydrate well. If you are going out the night before and having a few drinks, it’s not going to feel great the following morning. Always be sure to drink plenty, especially in the warmer weather. We like to add electrolytes to our water the day before just to be sure.
Unless we are back to back training, we also tend to avoid anything too strenuous the day before. Speed work for example is sure to take it out of you the day before a long run.
Long Run Recovery
Effective recovery steps will make you feel much better. This includes taking on fluids to replace those lost, eating the right food after the run and stretching/rolling. Keeping active is something else to think about. It may be something as simple as cutting the grass or walking the dog. Avoid the urge to spend the rest of the day stiffening up on the couch.
There’s no feeling quite like the one you get after a long run. In my early running days, before long miles were so common place, it was a mixture of relief and pure exhaustion. It meant the rest of the day laid out on the couch eating everything in sight (at least after a couple of hours had passed). Long run recovery just meant eating my way through the day, waiting for the moment I could go to bed and then waking up the next day dreading putting both feet on the floor and standing up!
Anyway, a combination of experience many more long runs and lots of trial and error means that now, 20+ miles doesn’t write off a whole day. In fact, with the right recovery, it is possible to function like a normal human being rather than a couch potato. Let’s take a look at some top tips for long run recovery.
Post Run Stretches
Tempting as it is to just lie down and not move, don’t! Resist the urge and stretch. When you get to your front door, or your car, after completing your run, take a few minutes to do those all-important stretches – calf stretch, quad stretch, hamstring stretch etc. Hold each stretch for approximately 15 seconds and make sure you do them all. Your legs will thank you for it. Many times, I have made that rookie error of sitting down, only to find I can barely get up again.
If you are contemplating which you should do first – the post run stretches or the recovery drink., try and do both. It’s useful to leave a recovery drink just inside your front door or in your car. Then, you can drink while you are stretching. Fluid intake is so important after a long run. You will have lost more fluid than you think. Make up an electrolyte recovery drink beforehand and then it’s ready as soon as you finish. Not only will you replace the lost fluids but also those all-important salts and electrolytes.
Water is OK if you have been running for 90 minutes or less but if you’ve been running for longer then you want to consider a recovery drink with SIS, Nuun or similar hydration tablets, dissolved in a glass or bottle of water. The recovery drink is specifically formulated to replace lost electrolytes and aid recovery. We tend to favour the SIS tabs but they all do a similar job.
Some people lose more fluid than others during those long runs and you will lose more during the summer than the winter. it may be interesting to weight yourself before the long run and again after to try and gauge what level of fluid you lose. Then, in addition to keeping hydrated while you run, be sure to replenish the fluids after.
It’s suggested that you eat within 20 minutes of finishing your run. Many runners find this tough. Eating immediately after such a long run can be tough however, we swear by a banana. Many runners choose to eat a protein bar or something similar. Just make sure you eat as soon as you can. Again, keep something ready so that you can just grab it when you finish.
Long Run Recovery Food
Your post run recovery meal or snacks should be a balance of protein and carbohydrates. Yoghurt and granola are a good example. Other snacks include:
- Oatmeal with fruit
- Peanut butter on wholemeal bread
- Trail mix
- Egg on wholemeal toast
- Salmon/chicken with veg and brown rice
While Coca Cola is not the healthiest replacement for the nutrients you have lost, it does give you an immediate boost after you’ve finished the run. Of course, if you are anything like us, a bit of cake also does the job. Some people (me included) prefer to replace the lost calories with a treat – especially after working that hard. We know that it’s not the healthiest option though.
Have a Shower Not a Bath
If you aren’t the type to sit in a bath full of ice and just want to get clean after your run, take a shower. For a good couple of years, I would get back from a long run then get in a piping hot bath. I would then sit there for at least 30 minutes topping it up every few minutes. Later in the day I would get a severe headache that would last until I went to bed. It was only during my CIRF coaching course that my assessor pointed out that the headaches could be down to the hot bath. He specifically asked me if I took a hot bath after my long runs. I switched to a shower. I rarely get headaches any more.
Groan! Yep, you want to sit on your backside and binge on Netflix but keep active. If you can manage it, stick on your compression socks and some comfortable clothes and take the dog out for a walk. If you don’t have a dog, take a short walk. Do those jobs that need doing – cut the grass, etc. It will notably make you feel better, it makes the day go faster.
Resist the Urge to Eat Eleventy Billion Calories
You may feel that you have earned the right to eat at least 3 slices of cake to compensate for all those calories but your body needs the right nutrients so try and get some healthy food inside you. Listen, we like cake as much as the next person but it’s all about moderation, right?
Once you have consumed your recovery drink, keep a bottle full of water handy. Keep drinking throughout the day. You have a lot of fluids to replace. Keep drinking regularly.
Do you need a recovery run the following day? Some people swear by it and it’s part of the routine. Normally I can’t face it. I will take the dogs for a walk but I generally don’t do a recovery run. There’s lots of reasons for it – it gets the blood pumping which flushes to toxins. It can be argued that a cycle or a walk will do the same. It’s up to you. I have spent a couple of years doing recovery runs the following day of between 3-5 miles. Now I tend to rest the following day. There are those that question if a recovery run is actually beneficial – how can running be recovering? It is important to keep moving though.
You should also continue to stretch and hydrate the following day too. Even if you feel OK, it is still important to carry on with your recovery routine. Foam rolling is also beneficial – if you have a foam roller, use it regularly to stay on top of knots etc. especially if you don’t have a regular sports massage.
However bad it feels the first few times you get back from a long run and have to deal with kids, dogs that need walking, mouths that need feeding and household chores, we can tell you that it does get easier as your body gets used to the long miles and you learn what works for you when it comes to long run recovery.
Use the Chance to Practise with Kit
It is important to practise running with your ultra marathon training kit during these long runs. This will give you the opportunity to break in new trainers (don’t do this too close to your race or too far out). It will also enable you to practise what you will eat, the type of hydration vest you will run with, what shorts you will wear and even what socks you might wear. If something works, don’t change it and don’t try anything new on race day.
Most of all, enjoy your training plan. It was only recently that we were discussing our last ultra and how much we loved the training more so than the actual event. We spent weeks exploring, discovering different parts of the course through recces and enjoying all terrains in all weathers. Those long runs were probably the best part of our training.
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